What began as an effort to make aspirin safer for regular use may have resulted in a powerful new weapon in the fight against cancer. Scientists from The City College of New York (CCNY) have developed a new aspirin compound that is safer than the classic medicine cabinet staple, but also exhibits greatly enhanced anticancer properties.

The new designer aspirin curbed the growth of 11 different types of human cancer cells in culture without harming normal cells, reported a team from the City College of New York. The cancers controlled included colon, pancreatic, lung, prostate, breast, and leukemia. The aspirin compound also shrank human colon cancer tumors by 85 percent in live animals, again without adverse effects.

In recent years, aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen have been adding important clinical uses to their traditional role as minor painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. For example, their role in prevention of heart attack and stroke is now well-established.

More recent studies have demonstrated that NSAIDs have a remarkable ability to inhibit the growth of cancer. It appears that regular use of aspirin (such as the recommended 83 mg/day prophylactic dose for heart attack) reduces the risk of colon cancer by about half. Unfortunately, using NSAIDs as a treatment for cancer requires much larger doses, which carry with them side effects ranging from bleeding ulcers to kidney failure.

In an effort to create a safer aspirin, the CCNY team preserved the aspirin chemical structure, but added to it two new chemical groups. One of these groups releases nitric oxide (NO), which helps protect the stomach lining, while the other releases hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which increases aspirin's cancer-fighting effects. NO plus H2S leads to NOSH-aspirin.

The researchers suspected that this hybrid structure would be more effective than either of the two components alone in boosting aspirin's safety and power against cancer. They were right.

72 hours after applying the NOSH-aspirin to a culture of colon cancer cells, it proved to be 250,000 times more effective in suppressing cancer cell growth than conventional aspirin. NOSH-aspirin proved to be 15,000 times more effective than NO-aspirin, and 80 times more effective than H2S-aspirin. It appears that the NOSH-aspirin may be effective at doses small enough that side effects will not be of concern.

This remarkable effectiveness against cancer cells provides strong motivation for development of new cancer drugs which also share this extreme potency. Development and obtaining FDA approval of such a drug is probably a decade or more away, but development of the NOSH-aspirin (and other recent developments) should join a major revolution in cancer treatment which is only now beginning to emerge.

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