AUG 21, 2017 3:33 PM PDT

High-Doses of Vitamin C Stop Leukemia Cells From Multiplying


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A new study reports that vitamin C has the capacity to stop leukemic cells from multiplying. The results are part of a growing list of evidence, which supports the anti-cancer properties of vitamin C.

Vitamin C has had a long stint with the medical community. In 1753, the compound was shown to ward off scurvy – a condition that was common among sailors at the time. Since then, vitamin C was purported to be effective against viruses like the common cold and the flu. More recently, the compound has been implicated as having cancer-fighting potential in cancer cells derived from the colon, brain, and blood.

In the current study, researchers at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University (NYU) Langone Health focused on leukemia cells. Specifically, they were interested in an enzyme called Tet methylcytosine dioxygenase 2 (TET2), which signals stem cells to mature into differentiated blood cells. In various forms of leukemia, mutations in the TET2 gene contribute to an overabundance of immature blood stem cells and not enough of healthy white blood cells.

Researchers hope that by rescuing a malfunctioning copy of TET2, they can reverse leukemia. The team turned to vitamin C to test whether this compound could restore TET2 functions.

Indeed, intravenous injections of high-dose vitamin C seemed to rescue TET2 functions. The vitamin C compound is thought to engage in DNA demethylation - a process that signals blood stem cells to mature and die.

The researchers then combined vitamin C with a well-known class of anticancer drugs called PARP inhibitors. PARP inhibitors typically “cause cancer cell death by blocking the repair of DNA damage, and [are] already approved for treating certain patients with ovarian cancer,” explained Luisa Cimmino, the study’s lead author. In combination, the team report leukemia cells were less able to multiply and self-renew.

“Our work also suggests that vitamin C plus/minus PARP inhibitors might be part of a beneficial strategy for TET2 mutant [acute myeloid leukemia]," said Dr. Benjamin Neel, the study’s co-senior author.

The authors caution that these results are still preliminary and that further investigations in human clinical trials are necessary to reveal the full anti-cancer effects of vitamin C. In fact, a multi-center trial is being coordinated currently.

"We also plan additional preclinical studies to test the effects of high-dose vitamin C in combination with PARP [inhibitors] in more models of [acute myeloid leukemia] and in primary patient samples,” said Dr. Neel. "And finally, we plan experiments to identify other agents that might synergize with vitamin C in [acute myeloid leukemia] samples."

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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