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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Summer 2000 Online
Copper-lowering drug stabilizes advanced cancer
By depriving cancer tumors of the copper supply they need to form new blood vessels, Cancer Center researchers have stopped the growth and spread of the disease in a small group of patients with advanced cancer who had exhausted other conventional treatment options.
The surprising finding, reported by George Brewer, M.D., and Sofia Merajver, M.D., Ph.D., is the first evidence in humans that physicians might fight multiple types of cancer by targeting copper as a "common denominator" of angiogenesis, a process by which tumors grow the blood vessels that allow them to expand beyond a tiny cluster of cells.
In this Phase I trial, five of six patients whose copper levels were kept at one-fifth of normal for more than 90 days had no growth of existing tumors or formation of new ones. The sixth had progression of only one tumor; all others within her body remained stable. Twelve other patients did not achieve the target copper level, or could not stay at the target level for 90 days, because of disease progression. Neither the drug (known as tetrathiomolybdate or TM) nor the long-term copper deficiency produced side effects.
Researchers are proceeding with a clinical trial aimed at accelerating TM-induced copper reduction and assessing its effect on advanced-stage cancer. Later this year, they will be testing this approach in 100 patients with five types of less-advanced cancer. As the new trials open, they will be announced on the Cancer Center web site.
Contributing writers: Kara Gavin, Health System Public Relations, and Sally Pobojewski, U-M News and Information Services