Scientists have made an unexpected discovery when they paired a form of arsenic trioxide with a leukemia drug, all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). The combination of the two seems to have beneficial effects in cancer treatment.
A team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was investigating claims that arsenic could have some anti-cancer properties, following information that public drinking water containing small amounts of the substance was connected to lower cancer incidence. Putting together an oxide of arsenic (ATO), which was cleared as safe by the FDA, and ATRA showed an impressive positive effect against acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).
While it is still unclear what are the actual processes taking place, initial data suggests that the duo is targeting the Pin1enzyme, which is linked with several types of cancer. Pin1 is believed to be responsible for activating more than 40 cancer-driving proteins and interfering with more than 20 tumor-suppressing proteins.
The finding is even more crucial as disrupting this particular master enzyme could prove to be a key to eliminating aggressive tumors which are typically resistant to therapy, and also eliminate cancer stem cells. Extended research on breast cancer, liver cancer as well as lupus and asthma points towards a positive outcome.
While most of the world classifies arsenic as a poison, in China it has a long history of being used as a treatment for a multitude of problems, from infections to cancer.
In the press release, dr. Xiao Zhen Zhou mentions that “Our discovery strongly suggests an exciting new possibility of adding arsenic trioxide to existing therapies in treating triple-negative breast cancer and many other cancer types, especially when patients’ cancers are found to be Pin1-positive”, giving hope to millions of cancer patients throughout the world.