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Two Birds with One Drug

/ December 29, 2017 /

Some drugs have more positive side effects that remain undiscovered for the longest time. In a recent study, researchers found that a 60-year-old drug that is commonly used to treat alcohol addiction is also effective in treating cancer.

One of the most successful rehabilitation methods to treat chronic alcoholics is using Disulfiram. Commonly known as Antabuse, the drug causes unpleasant symptoms to the taker when they consume alcohol. This is because Disulfiram disables aldehyde dehydrogenase, the enzyme in the liver that helps break down alcohol. When this enzyme is unable to function, alcohol builds up in the bloodstream, causing negative reactions in individuals. Patients experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headache, and other such physical difficulties. This negative experience makes alcoholics aversive to alcohol and weans them off their dependency.

Freezing Cancer

Meanwhile, a rather surprising discovery showed that the same drug also has the ability to minimise the effects of cancer. Despite many cancer cases being solved unconsciously through the consumption of Disulfiram, the evidence of this positive outcome was confirmed recently.

Researchers from Karolinska Institute, Sweden, conducted a drug study using Disulfiram on mice as well as human cancer cells. They found that when individuals with cancer consume this drug, it causes the NPL4 protein in their body to clump together with enzyme p97. This freezes the cancer cells, preventing their growth. Moreover, the drug did not allow the cancer cells to kill necessary proteins that weaken the immune system. Due to this buildup of the protein, the cancer cells become stressed and die.

Unlike many cancer-specific drugs in the market, Disulfiram targets a specific complex protein molecule, which makes it more effective. Researchers have emphasised that while this isn’t a permanent solution to cancer, the drug is highly helpful in minimising tumour growth and ensuring cancer doesn’t advance to the next stage. Another advantage of this drug is that it is cheaply available in the market, making it easier for oncologists to prescribe it to their patients.

With studies successfully proving that the drug has helped to curb breast, prostate, and colon cancer, treatment methods for cancer, as well as HIV, seems to be getting easier. Researchers are now experimenting with this drug to see how it can be used in the treatment of brain cancer. As more study goes into this, doctors see a lot of scope in the ways cancer patients can be treated.

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