A bad penny: Cancer's thirst for copper can be targeted

Drugs used to block copper absorption for a rare genetic condition may find an additional use as a treatment for certain types of cancer, researchers at Duke Medicine report.

The researchers found that cancers with a mutation in the BRAF gene require copper to promote tumor growth. These tumors include melanoma, the most dangerous form of that kills an estimated 10,000 people in the United States a year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"BRAF-positive cancers like melanoma almost hunger for copper," said Christopher M. Counter, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology at Duke University School of Medicine and senior author of the study published April 9, 2014, in Nature.

The BRAF gene is involved in regulating cell division and differentiation. When mutated, the gene causes cells to grow out of control. Using animal models and cells, Counter and colleagues found that when they experimentally inhibited copper uptake by tumors with the BRAF mutation, they could curb .

They achieved similar results with drugs used to treat patients with Wilson disease, a genetic disorder in which copper builds up in the tissue, primarily the brain and liver, causing damage.

"Oral drugs used to lower copper levels in Wilson disease could be repurposed to treat BRAF-driven cancers like melanoma, or perhaps even others like thyroid or lung cancer," said Donita C. Brady, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Already, a clinical trial has been approved at Duke to test the copper-reducing drugs in patients with melanoma, although enrollment has not yet begun.

"This is a great example of how basic research moves from the laboratory to the clinic," Counter said.

More information: Copper is required for oncogenic BRAF signalling and tumorigenesis, Nature, dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13180

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New biomarker may help guide treatment of melanoma patients

Oct 22, 2013

A functional biomarker that can predict whether BRAF-mutant melanomas respond to drugs targeting BRAF could help guide the treatment of patients with these cancers, according to results presented here at the AACR-NCI-EORTC ...

Recommended for you

Pepper and halt: Spicy chemical may inhibit gut tumors

9 hours ago

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that dietary capsaicin – the active ingredient in chili peppers – produces chronic activation of a receptor on cells lining ...

Expressive writing may help breast cancer survivors

11 hours ago

Writing down fears, emotions and the benefits of a cancer diagnosis may improve health outcomes for Asian-American breast cancer survivors, according to a study conducted by a researcher at the University of Houston (UH).

Taking the guesswork out of cancer therapy

17 hours ago

Researchers and doctors at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) have co-developed the first molecular test ...

Brain tumour cells found circulating in blood

17 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—German scientists have discovered rogue brain tumour cells in patient blood samples, challenging the idea that this type of cancer doesn't generally spread beyond the brain.

International charge on new radiation treatment for cancer

18 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Imagine a targeted radiation therapy for cancer that could pinpoint and blast away tumors more effectively than traditional methods, with fewer side effects and less damage to surrounding tissues and organs.

User comments