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Half-Century-Old Drug Offers New Promise for Cancer Sufferers

01 Sep 09

The cure for a genetic defect known to trigger bowel cancer may find its roots in a scientific discovery dating as far back as the 1940s and the era of the Second World War. According to Cancer UK, who funded the study, laboratory tests of the drug, methotrexate, have proven successful in selectively eliminating cells that contain the defective MSH2 gene. Not only does the condition, known as HNPCC, precipitate far higher rates of bowel cancel amongst both male and female sufferers (90% and 70% respectively), but it is also known to contribute to the development of tumours of the kidneys, stomach and ovaries - amongst others. While still widely used in the treatment of leukaemia, newer drugs have since taken over in the fight against cancerous tumours - making methotrexate's new-found efficacy all the more surprising. According to EMBO Molecular Medicine, patient trials of the drug have already begun.

The study, carried out at the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK, has been commended by all sectors of the medical community - including by many independent experts. Professor Alan Ashworth, who led the study at the Institute said: "What's exciting about methotrexate is that it selectively destroys the cells lacking the MSH2 function. This indicates that it may make an excellent treatment for patients with the genetic alteration". A spokesperson for Cancer Research UK added: "It's really fascinating that our scientists have discovered that an old- fashioned drug of this type shows new promise for this very specific group of patients."

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