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Anti-cancer effect of common industrial solvent discovered in Peter Mac laboratories, heralding world-first clinical trial

Friday 09 May 2014

Professor Ricky Johnstone (above) discusses the efficacy of N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) in myeloma on World News Australia, SBS.


Researchers from Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have revealed a common solvent, found in domestic, industrial and medical products has anti-cancer properties, paving the way for a world-first clinical trial at Peter Mac, Monash Medical Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital to treat people with advanced blood cancer.

Dr Jake Shortt from Peter Mac’s Gene Regulation Laboratory and Haematologist at the Monash Medical Centre (pictured above), says the research findings, published overnight in Cell Reports, show that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), long-regarded a basic, stable and inactive solvent, affects the growth and survival of multiple myeloma cells and additionally, stimulates the immune system to kill these tumours.

‘Working with Peter Mac’s Haematology Immunology Translational Research Laboratory (HITRL), we found NMP effectively “reprograms” myeloma cells by targeting a class of gene-regulating proteins.

‘This reprogramming reawakens thousands of genes that have been silenced in the cancer cells, immediately stopping the myeloma cells from growing, while activating the immune system to respond to the cancer.’

Professor Ricky Johnstone: Head, Gene Regulation Laboratory, says the research team first noticed NMP had anti-cancer effects in myeloma four years ago.

‘In a routine experiment in 2010, Dr Shortt noticed our pre-clinical models of myeloma were responding to the control dose of NMP, which was surprising as this control dose contained none of the novel cancer agents we were actually testing.

‘Until then, NMP had been understandably overlooked in the laboratory, as it has been used for many years as a solvent for the transportation, storage and delivery of many compounds, and can be found in a range of common products including paints, fabrics, medical patches and dental barriers.’

Professor David Ritchie: co-Head of Peter Mac’s HITRL, Consultant Haematologist at Peter Mac and The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Chief Investigator of the phase I clinical trial, backed by the National Health and Medical Research Council and due to commence in late-2014, says because safe levels of NMP in humans are already well-established, the study is in the advanced planning stage.

‘We’re at an advantage with this trial because we can immediately start at dosage levels within those recommended under occupational health and safety guidelines.

‘It is extremely exciting to have this new insight into NMP, which is comparatively cost-effective and plentiful, compared to novel treatments developed by pharmaceutical companies, and hopefully holds promise for new or improved treatments in other cancer types.’


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