Chinese Scientists Uncover How Arsenic Treats Blood Cancer

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In China, arsenic has long served the dual role of intentional poison as well as traditional Chinese medicine. 

In 1992, a group of Chinese doctors reported they have successfully used arsenic to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), with cure rates as high as 90%. 

In a paper published in the April 9th issue of Science, Dr. Zhang and his team reported for the first time how arsenic attacked specific proteins that keep cancer cells alive and well in APL patients

According to the published paper, arsenic promotes degradation of an oncogenic protein that drives the growth of APL cells.

The researchers are now investigating whether arsenic can also be used to treat other cancers.  They believed arsenic is a better drug than chemotherapy due to its moderate its side-effects.  There is no hair loss or suppression of bone marrow function in patients treated with arsenic.

Although there are some countries currently using arsenic to treat APL, most countries are resistant to the idea due to its toxicity profile.  However, a commentary written by Dr. Scott Kogan at the University of California San Francisco indicated that proper case selection and combination therapy with arsenic may improve outcomes for treating not only promyelocytic leukemia, but other diseases as well.

Science 2010;328:240-243.

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