Oriental antidote

Published: Sunday 15 September 1996

new research on an ancient Chinese treatment for skin disorders and other maladies, has brought to light the fact that the traditional remedy can actually deal more effectively with virulent forms of acute promyelocytic leukaemia (apl), a rare blood cancer, than was previously thought. Arsenic trioxide, one of the ingredients of the Chinese medicine has been credited with the ability to combat apl in terminally ill patients.

In 1994, Chen Zhu and colleagues at the Shangai Second Medical University, along with scientists from the Harbin Medical University, both in China, used the chemical to help 15 terminal apl patients, after treatment with other chemotherapeutic drugs failed. The research team reported recently that it was successful in achieving complete remissions in 14 of the 15 patients treated with arsenic trioxide.The chemical, which causes minimal side effects, seems to work by triggering off cancer cells to go into apoptosis or programmed cell death.

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