Vitamin C shows promise for the treatment of rare cancers
News — 28.08.2020

Vitamin C shows promise for the treatment of rare cancers

Less common cancers linked to the endocrine glands are demonstrably susceptible to ascorbic acid (vitamin C) A surprising discovery made by an international team of scientists led by Karel Pacak of the US National Institute of Health paves the way to a novel, thus far untested approach to treatment.

The research was published in the July issue of the scientific journal Clinical Cancer Research. The team of the scientists involved Katerina Vanova and Jiri Neuzil of the Molecular Therapy Group, the Institute of Biotechnology, the Czech Academy of Sciences at the BIOCEV centre.

The discovery of sensitivity to vitamin C may bring a new approach to the treatment of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PCPG tumours), which are rare types of difficult-to-treat tumours. The only currently known method of treatment is resection or surgical removal of the cancer, which, however, if the whole cancer cannot be removed -- inevitably leads to recurrence of the disease.

The discovery is fundamental and surprising in terms of basic research. At the same time, it brings great potential for clinical research. “We have found that certain types of these PCPG tumours with specific gene mutations are highly susceptible to ascorbic acid, while tumours without these specific mutations are resistant,” explains Jiri Neuzil of the Institute of Biotechnology, the Czech Academy of Sciences. The reason is that tumour cells with given mutations produce more oxygen and iron, which in combination with ascorbate can kill the tumour.

The research team will now focus on other treatment options for these rare tumours, for which clinical testing of new treatments is not unrealistic.

BIOCEV is a joint project of six institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences (the Institute of Molecular Genetics, the Institute of Biotechnology, the Institute of Microbiology, the Institute of Physiology, the Institute of Experimental Medicine and the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry) and two faculties of Charles University in Prague (the Faculty of Science and the First Faculty of Medicine). It is based in Vestec and focuses on biotechnological and biomedical research.

Publication reference:

Liu Y, Pang Y, Zhu B, Uher O, Caisova V, Huynh TT, Taieb D, Hadrava Vanova K, Ghayee HK, Neuzil J, Levine M, Yang C, Pacak K. Therapeutic Targeting of SDHB-Mutated Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma with Pharmacologic Ascorbic Acid. Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Jul 15;26(14):3868-3880. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-19-2335.

Figure: Paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas with mutations in the complex II subunit called SDHB are highly susceptible to ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This is because vitamin C, in the presence of increased amounts of iron, forms reactive oxygen species that are toxic to cancer cells. The colour indicates a significant suppression of the growth of PCPG tumours with a reduced level of the SDHB complex II subunit by vitamin C (B) compared to tumours with a normal level of SDHB (A). The image is part of the above publication.
Title image source: Czech Centre for Phenogenomics
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