Researchers Claim Ecstasy Can Be Used in Cancer Treatment

A modified version of MDMA – commonly known as ecstasy – could help with treatment for blood cancer, scientists have claimed.

Ecstasy, as well as, other psychotropic drugs suppress the growth of over half of all white blood cancer cells, but previously the large dose required to treat a tumour would also have killed the patient. Photo: Monique Renne/Flickr

Researchers at Birmingham University have found a way to boost its cancer-suppressing powers 100-fold, making it a potentially viable treatment for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Scientists have known for years that the nightclubbers’ drug, Ecstasy, as well as, other psychotropic drugs suppress the growth of over half of all white blood cancer cells, but previously the large dose required to treat a tumour would also have killed the patient.

In a study published in the Investigational New Drugs journal, the scientists said the new drug could be used by doctors to treat cancer if it can be produced in a safe form.

Lead author Professor John Gordon said: “This is an exciting next step towards using a modified form of MDMA to help people suffering from blood cancer. While we would not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvement in treatments in years to come.”

At the same time Dr Julie Sharp of Cancer Research UK said: “As MDMA is a dangerous drug, the researchers need also to find out if they can create safe versions to treat people with the disease.”

“Although survival rates for leukaemia have improved over the past thirty years new approaches to treatment are still needed to tackle this disease even more effectively.”

Birmingham University researchers first discovered the unlikely link between the illegal substance and a viable therapy for common blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma in 2006.  Additional research produced an atomically tweaked version of ecstasy’s active compound, MDMA, which bolsters the drug’s cancer-fighting power 100-fold in test tubes.

The original 2006 study found a fatally large dose of MDMA would be needed to make a dent in the disease. But the Birmingham team, toiling for five years along with scientists from The University of Western Australia, found a way to maximize MDMA’s cancer-fighting properties, while minimizing its toxic effect on the brain.

This is how it works: The drug attaches itself to the fat in diseased cells, weakening the membrane and making them “soapy.” The cancer cells are then essentially washed away, Gordon said.

Study authors wrote that using enough MDMA to effectively treat a patient with a malignant tumor would likely kill cancer cells. Researchers teamed up with a group from the University of Western Australia, working together to create new compounds.

Professor Gordon said: “Together, we were looking at structures of compounds that were more effective. They started to look more lipophilic, that is, they were attracted to the lipids that make up cell walls.”

He continued: “This would make them more ‘soapy’ so they would end up getting into the cancer cells more easily and possibly even start dissolving them.”

Dr David Grant, of the national charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which part-funded the research, said: “The prospect of being able to target blood cancer with a drug derived from ecstasy is a genuinely exciting proposition.

“Many types of lymphoma remain hard to treat and non-toxic drugs which are both effective and have few side effects are desperately needed. Further work is required but this research is a significant step forward in developing a potential new cancer drug.”

BBC News reports, one variant increased cancer-fighting effectiveness 100-fold, meaning if 100 grams of un-modified ecstasy was needed to get the desired effect, only one gram of the modified ecstasy would be needed to have the same effect. [via The Telegraph, Newser, Sky News, NY Daily News and International Business Times]

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