Methadone can kill resistant forms of cancer

August 1st, 2008 - 12:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 1 (IANS) Researchers have discovered that methadone, an agent used to break addiction to drugs, has killing power against leukaemia cells, including resistant forms of cancer. Their lab study suggests that methadone holds promise as a new therapy for leukaemia, especially in patients whose cancer no longer responds to chemotherapy and radiation.

“Methadone kills sensitive leukaemia cells and also breaks treatment resistance, but without any toxic effects on non-leukaemia blood cells,” said the study’s senior author, Claudia Friesen, of the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Ulm in Germany.

“We find this very exciting, because once conventional treatments have failed a patient, which occurs in old and also in young patients, they have no other options.”

Methadone, developed in Germany in the 1930s, is a low cost agent that acts on opioid (chemical substance that has a morphine-like action in the body) receptors, and thus is used as an opioid substitute to treat addiction.

Scientists have found that opioid receptors also exist on the surface of some cancer cells for reasons that are not understood. One research group tested the agent in human lung cancer cell lines and found that it can induce cell death.

In this study, Friesen and her colleagues tested methadone in leukaemia cells in lab culture because this cancer also expresses the opioid receptor.

Theirs is the first study to look at use of the agent in leukaemia, specifically in lymphoblastic leukaemia T-cell lines and human myeloid leukaemia cell lines.

They found that methadone was as effective as standard chemotherapies and radiation treatments against non-resistant leukaemia cells, and that non-leukaemic peripheral blood lymphocytes survived after methadone treatment.

To their surprise, they found that methadone also effectively killed leukaemia that was resistant to multiple chemotherapies and to radiation.

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