Drug used for 60 years to treat alcoholics may kill brain cancer tumours

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A DRUG used to treat alcohol addiction could help destroy deadly brain tumours, research has shown.

For more than 60 years, disulfiram has been used to wean people off alcohol. It makes the body acutely sensitive to alcohol, producing an unpleasant reaction.

Now scientists believe the drug could offer new hope to patients with glioblastoma, the most common and deadly form of brain cancer.

Unlike most drugs, disulfiram is able to penetrate the “blood-brain barrier” – a physical and molecular wall that keeps toxic substances out of the brain and tests have shown that the drug is effective at killing glioblastoma cells.

Because disulfiram is already a licensed drug with a known safety record, it could have a fast passage to clinical trials as a brain cancer treatment.

Study leader Dr Weiguang Wang, from the University of Wolverhampton, said: “These latest findings suggest that the drug may work by transporting copper into the cancer cells, generating destructive free-radicals that build up and kill the cell.

“Glioblastoma cells tend to have much higher levels of copper than normal tissues, meaning additional copper may tip them over the edge while sparing normal tissues. The idea of using copper to tackle cancer was first suggested by UK scientists in the 1920s, but this is the first time that scientists have found a way of successfully transporting excess copper into cancer cells and shown how this can be combined with conventional chemotherapy treatment to help kill glioblastoma cells.”

Sarah Lindsell, head of The Brain Tumour Charity, which funded the research into disulfiram, said: “We see first-hand the devastating effects that glioblastomas have on patients and their families and this research could be a foundation to improve treatment and extend life expectancy.”