Disulfiram has been known for nearly seven decades as an anti-drinking compound. The compound was first used in the vulcanization of tires however the workers in these factories experienced that they had an adverse reaction when drinking alcohol. The connection between Disulfiram and alcohol was only officially discovered when it was self-tested by scientists in order to explore whether the compound could be used as an anti-parasitic and had the same adverse reaction when trying to enjoy a drink.
Now this during is most commonly used to treat alcoholism, meaning that those who are taking the compound experience hangover symptoms immediately after alcohol consumption. Research carried out in the 1970s noted that those who were taking this particular type of medication, then went on to get cancer were able to fight it. Back then there was never a conclusive decision made about the cause and effect in this situation and the amount of research into this relationship became less and less over time.
However, the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre have published work that could breathe new life into the interest in this drug. The researchers at the Danish research centre carried out research in three parts and noticed serious benefits of the drug and were able to explain what was happening.
The first stage of the scientists’ researchers was to look into the impact of the drug which is already being used by part of the population. This included looking through the Danish Cancer registry, and unveiled that individuals with cancer who have been taking the Disulfiram, or Antabuse the brand name for the drug. The researchers found that those who continued to use the drug during cancer treatment had a lowered risk of death. Of the 3,000 patients taking Antabuse, 1,177 patients continued to take the treatment while being treated for cancer, however that group had a 34% lower death rate. This result was found to be consistent across prostate, breast and colon cancer.
The next stage of the research was to work out how the drug could have this effect, and it was found that the drug could immobilize a specific protein grouping which has been found in the past to boost the growth of tumours. Combining the Disulfiram with a copper supplement, the effects of the drug were boosted. In mouse studies it was found that ditiocarb is produced when the drug is broken down, when mixed with copper blocks the disposal of misfolded and unneeded proteins and can then stress the tumours in to dying. So far this research is promising. However, the work relies on funding from the government and non-profit organisations in order to pursue further research in order to hopefully develop a cheaper and quick treatment for patients that already has a proven safety profile.