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The vitamin jab that shrinks tumours in a day

A vitamin jab that shrinks tumours in a day is being hailed as a powerful new treatment for cancer.

British researchers who are testing the therapy say injecting an extract of vitamin E into the bloodstream has a rapid effect.

Within 24 hours, tumours begin to shrivel and after ten days they have almost completely disappeared.

So far, research has focused on the vitamin's ability to find and destroy skin cancers.

But scientists from the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, who led the research, are confident it will work for other types of tumours, too.

Vitamin E is vital for helping the body to fight illness and is found in foods such as vegetable oils, cereals, nuts, green vegetables and eggs.

It is rich in antioxidants that protect against disease by blocking damage from free radicals - harmful molecules that attack cells in much the same way as rust rots a car

But for the past few years, one particular compound found in vitamin E has attracted attention as a potential medicine that can attack cancer once it has set in.

Tocotrienol is an extract of vitamin E found in abundance in palm oil, cocoa butter, barley and wheat germ.

In the mid-Nineties, scientists carrying out laboratory tests discovered the ability of tocotrienol to halt the growth of breast cancer cells.

Since then, there have been several studies to see if injecting the vitamin extract into the body can help women who have a tumour.

But most failed, for several reasons.

First, much of the extract ended up floating around the bloodstream, as there was no easy way of directing it towards the cancer.

Second, very high quantities of tocotrienol can be toxic to healthy tissue as well as cancerous ones. And there is the added concern that vitamin E supplements have in the past been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer.

The latest breakthrough gets round all of these by smuggling the vitamin extract past healthy cells and making sure it hits its only target - the tumour.

To do this, scientists encapsulated the vitamin extract inside thousands of microscopic bubbles made from fat.

This meant the tocotrienol could travel through the body without damaging healthy cells.

Then, to make sure the cargo-laden bubbles headed straight for the tumour, the researchers coated them with the protein transferrin.

'This new formulation proved to be efficient and has had extremely encouraging results'

This has the job of escorting iron through the bloodstream to where it is needed, so that it can be absorbed by cells.

Cancer cells need a rich supply of iron in order to keep reproducing. This means they have large numbers of receptors on their surface designed to attract transferrin and the iron it is carrying.

By disguising the tumour-busting vitamin inside a bubble, the scientists were able to sneak it inside the cancer cell, where it launched its attack.

'This new formulation proved to be efficient and has had extremely encouraging results,' says research leader Dr Christine Duf├ęs.

A separate British trial, due to end in 2012, is looking at whether vitamin E can stop bladder cancer returning in patients who are in remission.

Cancer Research UK voiced concerns about vitamin E supplements' previous link with lung cancer and said the new treatment's safety would have to be thoroughly tested before it could be widely used.

'This research is at an early stage and more work is needed before we'll know if this could be a viable tool in the future,' says health information officer Dr Jodie Moffat.

'Previous studies have found high doses of vitamin supplements can actually increase the risk of certain types of cancer, which highlights just how important testing with people is.' 

 

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