Alcoholics as far back as Prohibition have taken a Food and Drug Administration-approved medicine called Antabuse to help them stop drinking.
Soon, mesothelioma victims may start taking it to help them stop dying.
Researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, and other institutions report that Antabuse causes malignant pleural mesothelioma cells to self-destruct and prevents new ones from forming.
Whether the drug can actually save the lives of mesothelioma victims remains to be seen. So far, these encouraging results occurred only in lab testing under the microscope and mice that were deliberately given mesothelioma.
However, the researchers expect that human testing will come in short order.
Weakening Mesothelioma Cells
But don’t jump the gun and race off to get an Antabuse prescription. You don’t want to start testing the drug on yourself or a loved one who suffers from mesothelioma yet
The Antabuse used by the researchers was altered to enhance its ability to bind with copper. It is this modification that enables the drug — chemically known as disulfiram or DSF — to show the promise that it does as an agent against mesothelioma.
DSF works for alcoholics by inhibiting production of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase. Without that enzyme, the body cannot process alcohol.
It turns out that mesothelioma cells need aldehyde dehydrogenase to help them function. By turning off the aldehyde dehydrogenase-making machinery, mesothelioma cells weaken.
Add to that an ability to bind copper and you’ve apparently got a formula for causing a mesothelioma cell to fatally malfunction.
Binds to Metals
DSF belongs to the dithiocarbamate family. Membership in this family gives it a molecular functionality that allows DSF to bind to metals.
Copper-complexed DSF is called DSF-Cu, in scientist shorthand. According to the Wayne State researchers, DSF-Cu possesses anti-tumor and chemosensitizing properties.
Unfortunately, the researchers can’t explain precisely how DSF-Cu works.
“A number of recent studies have further highlighted a requirement of copper in DSF-induced toxicity and radiosensitization of cancer cells, induction of oxidative stress, and inhibition of NF-κB and proteasome by DSF-Cu in a variety of cancer cell types,” the researchers wrote in the April 1 issue of the online journal PLOS ONE.
Stopping Mesothelioma in Its Tracks
The researchers noted that the ordinary median survival of mesothelioma victims is between nine and 17 months after diagnosis.
They attributed this shortness of longevity to the fact that mesothelioma so readily withstands the various types of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation typically brought to bear against the disease.
The researchers believe the best hope for mesothelioma patients rests in the development of molecular therapies that attack mesothelioma at the cellular level, as does DSF-Cu.
They indicated that one of their motivations for pursuing DSF-Cu as a potential therapy was a desire to reduce mesothelioma cases.
Currently, some 3,000 older adults in the U.S. develop mesothelioma each year. But, the researchers warned, the incidence of mesothelioma is on the rise — both here and around the world.
By the researchers’ estimate, millions of workers across the planet have been exposed to asbestos. That’s significant and troubling because asbestos exposure is what causes mesothelioma.
However, the researchers also found reasons to be optimistic. Not only might DSF-Cu prove itself a good treatment for mesothelioma, it might even be effective at outright preventing the cancer, they wrote.