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Oral drugs that were used to treat Wilson disease – a disorder that triggers copper to build up in the tissue and cause brain and liver damage – halted tumor growth in people with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer that kills more than 10,000 Americans every year.
The scientists found that cancers with a mutation in the BRAF gene need copper to thrive. The BRAF gene, which regulates cell division and mutation, causes cells to grow out of control.
Researchers found that when they experimented with the copper inhibitor in test animals, they could dramatically curb tumor growth. BRAF-positive cancers like melanoma basically hunger for copper to thrive, according to Christopher M. Counter, PhD, professor of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology at Duke University School of Medicine.
Donita C. Brady, PhD, who was the lead author of the study from Duke, elaborated that the same drugs that lower copper levels in patients with Wilson disease, might be used to treat people with other cancers besides melanoma, such as thyroid or lung cancer.
A clinical trial has already been approved at Duke to test patients with melanoma, using copper-reducing drugs.
Learn more about this particular pilot study pertaining to copper and cancer at BRAF Mutated Metastatic Melanoma Clinical Trials.