Taking pills to reduce the level of copper in the body may eliminate cancer by ‘starving’ the cancerous cells.
According to research done by Duke University, North Carolina, having too much copper in the blood, which is sometimes caused by an intake of excessive seafood and green vegetables, has a link to melanoma, as well as thyroid, lung and breast cancer.
Scientists are not of the belief that cancer is caused by copper. However, they believe that it aids in the ‘breathing’ of cancer cells and the removal of copper may lower the development of the cancer cells in the body.
Research done previously indicated that copper in drinking water given to mice at the maximum levels allowed in public supplies, increased the rate of tumour growth. A reduction in the copper levels indicated slower tumour growth which indicates that copper could be an important factor related to cancer in humans.
The results of the new study indicate that the level of copper may be significant in disease types that have a common mutation of a gene that is cancer-causing, called BRAF.
Experiments that have been concluded on mice and cells show that the metal is needed for growth in the tumours.
These results may offer scientists the opportunity to use drugs which stop the absorption of copper in patients who suffer from this rare mutation.
The results were very similar to those achieved with patients who suffer from Wilson Disease, which is a genetic disorder where copper build-up in the tissues of the body damages the liver and brain.
The BRAF gene is said to be hungry for copper and regulates cell differentiation and division. When it is mutated, it causes the cells to become out of control. When the copper intake was blocked to tumours where the BRAF mutation was present, its development stopped.
This occurred in cells that were resistant to treatment including compounds which were used to target the BRAF mutation.
A clinical trial has been approved at Duke University to test copper-reducing medications in patients suffering with melanoma. Professor Counter has said that this is an excellent example of how basic research is allowed to move from the laboratory to clinics.
Image credit: Jack Lyons