A modified form of Ecstasy (MDMA) may have enormous potential in the treatment of myeloma, lymphoma and leukemia, scientists from the University of Birmingham, England, wrote in the journal Investigational New Drugs. The modified drug is 100 times more powerful as a cancer-busting compound than Ecstacy, which is already known to be effective against over half of white blood cell cancers. The researchers believe they may eventually be able to create drugs to treat human patients.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham had already discovered six years ago that over half of all white blood cancer cells responded to psychotropic drugs - the drugs suppressed their growth. Included in their laboratory experiments were weight-loss pills, antidepressants (including Prozac) and Ecstasy.
Six years ago, the scientists wrote that the main problem was dosage - using enough MDMA to effectively treat a malignant tumor would probably kill the patient. So, they set about finding a way of breaking down the drug's actions so that its cancer-killing properties could be isolated and separated from its other toxic ingredients.
They worked together with scientists from the University of Western Australia, who created the new compounds. The Birmingham researchers discovered that the altered forms of Ecstasy had considerably greater cancer busting properties - 100 times greater - than Ecstasy.
With excitement, the scientists added that they think they now understand the mechanism behind the modified compounds.
Lead author Professor John Gordon, from the University of Birmingham's School of Immunology and Infection, 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. This would make them more 'soapy' so they would end up getting into the cancer cells more easily and possibly even start dissolving them.
By knowing this we can theoretically make even more potent analogues of MDMA and eventually reach a point where we will have in our drug cabinet the most potent form we could."
Prof. Gordon added that for him and his team, this is an exciting step towards finding effective treatment for individuals who suffer from blood cancer, using a modified form of MDMA.
Prof. Gordon said:
"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."
The next step is to move onto the development of pre-clinical studies.
The national charity, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, partly funded the research. Its Scientific Director, Dr. David Grant, 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."
Written by Christian Nordqvist