Scientists at the University of Birmingham have discovered a potent form of MDMA (Ecstasy) that could be used to help treat cancer.
The research - published in Investigational New Drugs - claims the MDMA variant demonstrated substantial success in "redesigning the designer drug" for possible use as a cancer-killing drug in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
The recent discovery builds on previous lab tests in which at least half of cancers affecting white blood cells responded to the growth-destroying characteristics of psychotropic drugs - including Ecstasy, weight-loss pills and antidepressants like Prozac.
Because the experiments were conducted in a test tube the team made it clear that shaping their laboratory findings into a practical experimental compound would come with a few problems, mainly, the dose of MDMA required to treat a cancerous tumor would be deadly to the patient.
As such, the researchers worked to separate the drug's cancer destroying properties from its overall toxicity, which led to discovery of a specially modded form of Ecstasy that is 100 times more effective at attacking and destroying cancerous cells.
"We were looking at structures of compounds that were more effective. They started to look more lipophilic, that is, they were attracted to the lipids that make up cell walls," explained lead author Professor John Gordon, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Immunology and Infection.
"This would make them more ‘soapy’ so they would end up getting into the cancer cells more easily and possibly even start dissolving them. By knowing this we can theoretically make even more potent analogues of MDMA and eventually reach a point where we will have in our drug cabinet the most potent form we could."
According to Gordon, the discovery is an exciting next step towards using a modified form of MDMA to help people suffering from blood cancer.
"While we would not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvement in treatments in years to come," he added.
Dr. David Grant, Scientific Director of the national charity Leukemia & Lymphoma Research, expressed similar sentiments.
"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. Further work is required but this research is a significant step forward in developing a potential new cancer drug."