Dance drug found to have properties that may help treat blood cancer

Ecstasy is being developed as a potential cancer treatment.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham yesterday revealed that modified forms of the dance club drug may be effective against blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma, early research suggests.

Six years ago scientists found that cancers affecting white blood cells appeared to respond to certain “psychotropic” drugs – including weight loss pills, Prozac-type antidepressants, and amphetamine derivatives such as MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy.

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Yesterday, the same team said that specially modified forms of ecstasy boosted the drug’s ability to destroy cancerous cells 100 times. Further work could lead human trials.

Professor John Gordon, from the university’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 improvements in treatments in years to come.”

Adapting ecstasy for use as a cancer drug initially presented serious problems.

Research initially showed that the doses of MDMA needed to treat tumour would be lethal. To overcome this, the scientists set about isolating the drug’s cancer-killing properties.

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The findings were published in the journal Investigational New Drugs.

Prof Gordon said the researchers were looking at ways to help MDMA molecules penetrate cancer cell walls more easily.

Dr David Grant, scientific director of the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which part funded the study, said the research was a significant step forward.

He added: “The prospect of being able to target blood cancer with a drug derived from ecstasy is a genuinely exciting proposition.”