Form of Ecstasy may help to combat cancer

Modified forms of the drug Ecstasy may be effective against leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma, early research has suggested.

Six years ago scientists found that cancers affecting white blood cells appeared to respond to certain "psychotropic" drugs. These included weight-loss pills, Prozac-type anti-depressants and amphetamine derivatives such as MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy. Today the same team at the University of Birmingham revealed that specially modified forms of Ecstasy boosted the drug's ability to destroy cancerous cells 100 times.

Further work could lead to MDMA derivatives being used in patient trials. Professor John Gordon, from the university's School of Immunology and Infection, said: "This is an exciting next step towards using a modified form of MDMA to help people suffering from blood cancer. While we would not wish to give people false hope, the results of this research hold the potential for improvements in treatments."

Adapting Ecstasy for use as a cancer drug was problematic at first. Research showed the dose of MDMA needed to treat a tumour would be fatal. To overcome this, the scientists set about isolating the drug's cancer-killing properties.