Altering the chemistry of recreational drug ‘ecstasy’ could help kill certain types of blood cancers, suggests new research.
Ecstasy or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was discovered in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a ‘party drug’ because it could induce euphoria.
Matthew Piggott, associate professor at the University of Western Australia, says while researching the use of MDMA in Parkinson’s disease, they came across a paper suggesting that it may also be potent against blood cancer.
So they collaborated with John Gordon, professor at the University of Birmingham, to increase the toxicity of the drug toward blood cancer cell lines, according to a Western Australia statement.
Now, Piggott says MDMA’s structure can be “tinkered with” to create MDMA analogues (compounds structurally similar to MDMA) that could have improved therapeutic properties.
“Professor Gordon found MDMA to be weakly toxic to certain types of blood cancer cell lines, so he presented the idea of ‘redesigning the designer drug,’” he says.
“We contacted him and he was very keen to test our analogues — initially created for Parkinson’s disease treatment research — on his cell lines.
“Initially six compounds were screened but most were not very active. However, there was one that was 10 times more potent, and this became the basis for the next batch of analogues,” says Piggott.
“We are currently at the process of making analogues of the best ‘lead’ compound we have discovered so far — which is 100—fold more potent.”
Piggott says the compounds are being evaluated using in vitro cell lines, but the next step would be testing them in an animal model of blood cancer.