Scientists find old antibiotic may selectively kill dangerous skin cancer cells

An old antibiotic, called nifuroxazide, could selectively kill dangerous cells within melanomas, the deadliest type of skin cancer, scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh have found.

The study, published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, found the drug showed promise for complementing existing melanoma therapies. The drug’s effect on melanoma cells was tested in mice and samples from human tumours and the scientists caution more research is needed to determine if it will be effective in people.

Within a single tumour there can be variation in the properties of the cells, with some more dangerous than others, in terms of their potential to support growth or become resistant to drug treatment. Many of the more dangerous cells in melanoma tumours produce a lot of an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 (ALDH1).

Current research into therapies has focused on blocking ALDH1, but in this study the researchers went a step further and aimed to selectively kill cells producing high ALDH1.

They used the drug nifuroxazide, an antibiotic, that is activated by the enzyme ALDH1, which means that it only becomes toxic once it is inside cells producing ALDH1.


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