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Tuesday 19th June 2018

WWII-era drug 'cancer hope'

1st September 2009

Scientists in the UK have said that a chemotherapy drug first used during World War II could kill off damaged cells which can cause bowel cancer.


In lab tests as part of a study funded by the Institute of Cancer Research, researchers discovered that methotrexate killed cells which contained the faulty MSH2 gene.

Trials using the drug have already started on patients, according to EMBO Molecular Medicine.

A condition called HNPCC raises the risk of developing some forms of cancer. Around 90% of men and 70% of women will develop bowel cancer by the age of 70 if they have HNPCC.

Around 40% of people with the condition are carriers of the damaged MSH2 gene. The gene is meant to fix damage to DNA, but if it is faulty then it increases the risk of cancer.

The use of methotrexate is still widespread in treating leukaemia as it prevents the growth and multiplication of cancer cells.

"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," said Professor Alan Ashworth, who headed the study at the Institute of Cancer Research.

"This is good news from one of our oldest chemotherapy drugs. It won't be for everyone, but it does hold out hope of a tailored treatment for those affected - a form of personalised chemotherapy," said Professor Will Steward, of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer.

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