Arsenic may help treat breast cancer

July 15, 2010 at 6:23 PM
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CHICAGO, July 15 (UPI) -- Nanotechnology may help an old drug -- arsenic trioxide -- fight aggressive breast cancer, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago are using mice to test if nanotechnology packaging of a drug long part of Chinese medicine and useful in treating blood cancers can help fight a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat breast cancer prevalent in young women, particularly African-American women.

The study, published in Clinical Cancer Research, finds the drug arsenic trioxide encapsulated into a nanoparticle called a nanobin before injection effectively reduced breast tumors in the mice. Non-encapsulated arsenic had no effect.

"The anti-tumor effects of the arsenic nanobins against clinically aggressive triple negative breast tumors in mice are extremely encouraging," study co-senior author Vince Cryns said in a statement. "There's an urgent need to develop new therapies for poor prognosis triple negative breast cancer."

Cryns explained without the nanobin packaging the arsenic trioxide is excreted before getting to the tumor. The nanobin -- a fat vessel called a liposome along with a cloaking chemical -- allows the drug to travel through the blood until it is absorbed by the abnormal, leaky blood vessels of the tumor. Nanoparticles of arsenic -- then released inside the tumor cells -- cause apoptosis or cell death.

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