LONDON - Researchers in Britain revealed Friday they are exploring whether the nightclubbers' drug ecstasy could be effective in treating blood cancers.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham in central England said modified forms of the drug boosted its ability to destroy cancerous cells by 100 times. Six years ago, researchers found that cancers affecting white blood cells appeared to respond to certain "psychotropic" drugs.
These included weight loss pills, Prozac-type antidepressants, and amphetamine derivatives such as MDMA - commonly known as ecstasy.
The Birmingham scientists said their discoveries since then could lead to MDMA derivatives being used in patient trials.
The derivatives could be effective in treating blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
"This is an exciting next step towards using a modified form of MDMA to help people suffering from blood cancer," said Professor John Gordon, from the university's School of Immunology and Infection.
"While we would not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvements in treatments in years to come." The team found that the dose of MDMA required to treat a tumor would prove fatal, so they set about isolating the drug's cancer-killing properties.
They are now looking at ways to get MDMA molecules to penetrate cancer cell walls more easily.
Doctor David Grant, scientific director of the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research charity, which part-funded the study, said: "The prospect of being able to target blood cancer with a drug derived from ecstasy is a genuinely exciting proposition.
"Many types of lymphoma remain hard to treat and non-toxic drugs which are both effective and have few side effects are desperately needed."
The findings are published in the bi-monthly journal Investigational New Drugs.