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

April 9, 2014

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.

Explore further: Blocking autophagy with malaria drug may help overcome resistance to melanoma BRAF drugs

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

Related Stories

Blocking autophagy with malaria drug may help overcome resistance to melanoma BRAF drugs

February 24, 2014
Half of melanoma patients with the BRAF mutation have a positive response to treatment with BRAF inhibitors, but nearly all of those patients develop resistance to the drugs and experience disease progression.

FDA approval of revolutionary two-drug combo to treat advanced melanoma

January 27, 2014
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have laid the groundwork for a revolutionary new combination therapy for the treatment of advanced melanoma – melanoma that cannot be removed surgically or has spread to other areas of ...

Enhanced treatment, surveillance needed for certain melanoma patients to prevent secondary cancers

August 14, 2013
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers suggest secondary cancers seen in melanoma patients who are being treated for a BRAF gene mutation may require new strategies, such as enhanced surveillance and combining BRAF-inhibitor therapy ...

New biomarker may help guide treatment of melanoma patients

October 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 ...

New drug, Vemurafenib, doubles survival of metastatic melanoma patients

March 1, 2012
A report published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the 50 percent of metastatic melanoma patients with a specific genetic mutation benefit from the drug Vemurafenib – increasing median survival ...

Second mutation in BRAF-mutated melanoma doesn't contribute to resistance

April 1, 2012
A second mutation found in the tumors of patients with BRAF-mutated metastatic melanoma does not contribute to resistance to BRAF inhibitor drugs, a finding that runs counter to what scientists expected to be true.

Recommended for you

New therapeutic approach for difficult-to-treat subtype of ovarian cancer identified

July 24, 2017
A potential new therapeutic strategy for a difficult-to-treat form of ovarian cancer has been discovered by Wistar scientists. The findings were published online in Nature Cell Biology.

Anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agent inhibits glioblastoma growth and radiation resistance

July 24, 2017
Glioblastoma is a primary brain tumor with dismal survival rates, even after treatment with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. A small subpopulation of tumor cells—glioma stem cells—is responsible for glioblastoma's ...

Immune cells the missing ingredient in new bladder cancer treatment

July 24, 2017
New research offers a possible explanation for why a new type of cancer treatment hasn't been working as expected against bladder cancer.

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.