The battle against colorectal cancer, aside from the negative effects of conventional treatment, could be happening soon. Scientists at the National University of Singapore have discovered a way to make a promising cancer treatment up to 10 times more effective. They accomplished this by mixing two well-known substances, anti-malarial drug artemisinin and aminolaevulinic acid, which is already used to treat a number of cancers.
This directs to a potential new method of treating Singapore’s #1 cancer without the conventional options of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which has shown to lead to a number of toxic side effects in patients. In laboratory studies, the researchers discovered that combining artemisinin with the acid killed colorectal cancer cells and curbed tumour growth significantly more than using artemisinin individually.
Artemisinin targets cells with high amounts of heme – a type of iron compound. As cancer cells contain much more heme than normal cells, artemisinin affects only them. The researchers discovered that aminolaevulinic acid would make colorectal cancer cells generate much more heme, making artemisinin attack them more aggressively.
From 2011-2015 there were 9,807 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in Singapore. The findings of the study were published in the July edition of the journal ACS Central Science.
Dr Lin Qingsong, who spearheaded the study with Dr Wang Jigang and Professor Shen Han-Ming, stated the experiment was exciting as both substances are far less toxic than conventional cancer treatments.
“Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may kill cancer cells, but they will also kill a lot of other non-cancer cells. So they will have a lot of side effects,” stated Dr Lin.
He reported he does not know how much the treatment will cost as it is still early stages. His team is now looking for capital to conduct clinical trials. National University Cancer Institute, Singapore consultant Tan Ker Kan reported that the results were promising as the study involved two drugs known to be safe.
“But the treatment needs further human studies to determine its safety profile,” said Dr Tan, who was not involved in the study.
“And after that you will need to test it against the efficacy of current chemotherapy drugs.”