Drug that helps addicts may help treat cancer too, say experts

June 27, 2016
University of St George’s London
The drug naltrexone (LDN), which is used to treat addicts, can have a beneficial impact on cancer patients if it is given in low doses, new research suggests. 
Scientists at St George’s, University of London, say the drug naltrexone (LDN), which is used to treat addicts, can have a beneficial impact on cancer patients if it is given in low doses.
Researchers discovered that not only does LDN cause cancer cells to stop growing, it also alters their internal machinery, making them more likely to kill themselves. This can lead to other treatments becoming more effective.
The research team, led by Dr Wai Liu and Professor Angus Dalgleish and working with the company LDN Pharma, discovered that the drug, when used in these small doses, can alter the genes that regulate how a cancer cell behaves. LDN can reactivate genes that promote cell killing, as well as modify the genes that interact with the immune system to make it more unfriendly to cancer.
Dr Liu said: “We have shown that the genetic fingerprint of naltrexone differs according to the different doses used, which identifies new ways of using it as an anti-cancer treatment.
“Rather than stopping the cancer cells from growing, patients want to be rid of them. We saw that by giving the drug for two days, then withdrawing it, cancer cells would stop cycling and undergo cell death.”
Dr Liu, who has spent 20 years researching cancer treatment, hopes his research will prompt clinical trials for the use of LDN on cancer patients. He foresees LDN being used in conjunction with other cancer treatments.
At present naltrexone is licensed in many countries for the treatment of alcohol and heroin addiction, but the doses used is much higher than in this study.
However, it isn’t licensed for the treatment of other illnesses, and patients are obtaining it ‘off label’ to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
Dr Liu added: “We have taken a drug that is relatively safe in humans, and reformulated a new use for it; this has only been possible by understanding the dynamics of a drug. How many other drugs can be improved in this way?
“We have shown a similar ‘repackaging’ benefit with the antimalarial drug artesunate and the cannabinoids. In both cases, drugs that are not classically cancer therapies are being trialled as such.
“This helps clinicians to devise new ways to tackle a disease that affects so many.”
The research has been published in the International Journal of Oncology.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of St George’s LondonNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Wai Liu, Katherine Scott, Jayne Dennis, Elwira Kaminska, Alan Levett, Angus Dalgleish. Naltrexone at low doses upregulates a unique gene expression not seen with normal doses: Implications for its use in cancer therapyInternational Journal of Oncology, 2016; DOI: 10.3892/ijo.2016.3567


Revisiting the ALA/N (alpha-lipoic acid/low-dose naltrexone) protocol for people with metastatic and nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer: a report of 3 new cases.

Integr Cancer Ther. 2009 Dec;8(4):416-22. doi: 10.1177/1534735409352082.
Revisiting the ALA/N (alpha-lipoic acid/low-dose naltrexone) protocol for people with metastatic and nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer: a report of 3 new cases.
Berkson BM, Rubin DM, Berkson AJ.

Author information

The Integrative Medical Center of New Mexico, Las Cruces, NM, USA.

Erratum in

Integr Cancer Ther. 2010 Jun;9(2):247.


The authors, in a previous article, described the long-term survival of a man with pancreatic cancer and metastases to the liver, treated with intravenous alpha-lipoic acid and oral low-dose naltrexone (ALA/N) without any adverse effects. He is alive and well 78 months after initial presentation. Three additional pancreatic cancer case studies are presented in this article. At the time of this writing, the first patient, GB, is alive and well 39 months after presenting with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas with metastases to the liver. The second patient, JK, who presented to the clinic with the same diagnosis was treated with the ALA/N protocol and after 5 months of therapy, PET scan demonstrated no evidence of disease. The third patient, RC, in addition to his pancreatic cancer with liver and retroperitoneal metastases, has a history of B-cell lymphoma and prostate adenocarcinoma. After 4 months of the ALA/N protocol his PET scan demonstrated no signs of cancer. In this article, the authors discuss the poly activity of ALA: as an agent that reduces oxidative stress, its ability to stabilize NF(k)B, its ability to stimulate pro-oxidant apoptosic activity, and its discriminative ability to discourage the proliferation of malignant cells. In addition, the ability of lowdose naltrexone to modulate an endogenous immune response is discussed. This is the second article published on the ALA/N protocol and the authors believe the protocol warrants clinical trial.

PMID: 20042414 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]