Vitamin D shows promise as cancer prevention drug

Strong evidence of effectiveness in animal tests

Washington D.C., August 22 -- Today, mothers urge vitamin D on their children to build strong bones and teeth. Within a decade, a chemically modified version of the vitamin could become one of a small but growing number of drugs used to prevent cancer, researchers reported today at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Vitamin D is often added to milk and produced naturally by skin exposed to sunlight. But taken in the amounts needed to realize its cancer prevention potential, vitamin D can be too much of a good thing. Prolonged use can lead to osteoporosis or even death.

Now, a research team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., with funding from the National Institutes of Health, says that it may have found a way around the problem. The researchers designed four different versions of vitamin D in their laboratory and tested them on two groups of mice: one that was painted with a tumor-inducing chemical and one that was not. Then they compared how the two groups fared.

After a 20-week treatment period, the most promising vitamin D candidate reduced the incidence of tumors by 28 percent and the number of tumors by 63 percent. The results demonstrate the drug's potential effectiveness in preventing cancer, according to the researchers. Previous studies in mice have shown that the drug is safe when ingested, they say.

"This is among the very best vitamin D analogs in terms of its therapeutic profile," says Gary H. Posner, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and a professor of chemistry at the university. He is collaborating in this effort with Thomas W. Kensler, Ph.D., a professor at the university's School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Posner cautions that the drug, which has not yet been tested in humans, is still in the early stages of development and could take 10 years to hit the mark

Contact: Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society

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