Chemical nips cancer in the bud

A chemical cocktail may be able to destroy growths in the gut which have the potential to become colon cancers, say scientists. Bowel polyps are not malignant – but patients may need to have them removed then undergo regular check-ups. A team of US scientists reported in the journal Nature that their drug – so far tested on mice – could persuade the growths to disappear. However, one specialist said it was too early to say if the cocktail was safe.

The University of Texas study focused on the type of polyp which causes three-quarters of the 33,000 colon cancers in the UK each year. The researchers attempted to directly target the mechanism which controls whether the cells in the polyp live or die. In normal cells, this process of “programmed cell death”, or apoptosis, happens automatically, but in the polyps, the process does not work as well. In laboratory tests, the experts found that their combination of two chemicals resulted in apoptosis in the polyp, without affecting surrounding tissues. In mice bred to have large numbers of polyps and eventually tumours, the cocktail reduced the polyps four-fold and significantly extended lifespan. The scientists say that because other cells appear to be unaffected, it is possible that the treatment could be used long-term with a minimum of side-effects.

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