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Vitamin C could treat blood cancer

Injecting high doses of vitamin C blocks leukaemia progression in mice.

A worldwide study has found that injecting high doses of vitamin C could slow the progression of blood cancers such as leukaemia. The research on mice found that vitamin C prevents the growth of leukaemia stem cells by restoring the beneficial effects of a faulty gene.  

Genetic changes

TET2 (Tet Methylcytosine Dixoygenase 2) is the name of a gene involved in the production of bone marrow and blood cells. It helps bone marrow stem cells mature into blood cells and encourages the death of faulty stem cells.

Genetic changes (mutations) that stop the TET2 gene from working properly can cause uncontrollable growth of faulty stem cells in the bone marrow and lead to some forms of leukaemia.

In this study, researchers from several institutions, including New York University in the US and Monash University in Australia, explored whether vitamin C could restore the TET2 gene to working order and slow the progression of leukaemia.

Mouse studies

The researchers genetically engineered mice so that their TET2 gene could be switched on or off. First, they established that turning off the TET2 gene caused abnormal stem cell behaviour (which could lead to the formation of cancerous cells), and turning it back on reversed this effect. They then discovered that giving the mice high doses of intravenous vitamin C also reversed this effect.

Vitamin C also helped stem cells to mature normally and suppressed the growth of leukaemia stem cells implanted into the mice from human patients. In addition, vitamin C was able to enhance the effect of a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancer.

Safe treatment

The study was published in the scientific journal Cell. The researchers suggest that, in the future, vitamin C is most likely to be used alongside chemotherapy and other conventional forms of cancer treatment.

It could be particularly useful for older patients who are unable to have very aggressive forms of chemotherapy. Study author, Professor Benjamin Neel, said: “We’re excited by the prospect that high-dose vitamin C might become a safe treatment for blood diseases."

Further investigation

Because this was an animal study, further investigation and clinical trials in humans will be needed before new treatments based on the findings could be offered to patients. Scientists will also need to find a way to lower the dose of vitamin C to a level that would be safe for humans.

However, this is exciting early stage research has the potential to pave the way for future treatment options for leukaemia and other blood cancers.

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