Healthy living

Modified ecstasy a potential treatment for cancer

Modified ecstasy a potential treatment for cancer Could be used to treat leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma

A modified version of the drug MDMA - also known as ecstasy - could be used in the future to treat some blood cancers, scientists claim.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham say the modified ecstasy is 100 times more effective at attacking and killing cancerous cells than MDMA alone, and could potentially be used to treat blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Six years ago, the same team of scientists discovered that more than half of the white blood cell cancers they looked at responded to psychotropic drugs in laboratory experiments.

These included amphetamine derivatives such as ecstasy and weight-loss pills, and antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac).

But the concentration of MDMA needed to treat a cancerous tumour would have been fatal to the patient.

Now the Birmingham scientists, along with researchers from the University of Western Australia, have redesigned the drug and developed a more potent compound.

The researchers also think they may have discovered how the drug works.

It appears to be attracted to the fatty molecules in the cell membrane - lipids - so the cell becomes "more soapy," making it easier for the drug to get into the cell. Normal healthy cells are more resistant to this action.

Furthermore, work could lead to MDMA-derivatives being used in patient trials, the researchers said.

Professor John Gordon, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Immunology and Infection, 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."

Dr David Grant, scientific director of the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which helped fund the study, 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."

The study is published in the journal Investigational New Drugs.

This article was published on Fri 19 August 2011

Image © Suprijono Suharjoto -

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