back to article Little bang for the Big C? Nitro in the anti-cancer arsenal

It's often the case that when people talk of wonder drugs in cancer they most often think of the latest exquisitely engineered molecules that closely target very specific biochemical pathways. Think high cost, think high science, and think high hopes. And yet there's evidence mounting that one of our oldest and most widely …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    "Nitroglycerin is used as a vasodilator – that is, it eases the muscle cells that surround blood vessels so they relax and open up."

    So, it 'relaxes' safes as well then?

    And I'm not even going to the euphemisms of rectal and opening. Saves a hamster though !!!

  2. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Yes, yes, cure cancer and so on, but, what of these 'poppers'...

    ... tell me more...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Yes, yes, cure cancer and so on, but, what of these 'poppers'...

      This is the internet, I'm sure you can find any number of specialist-interest websites to advise you.... when perhaps you are not using a work computer!

    2. TitterYeNot

      Re: Yes, yes, cure cancer and so on, but, what of these 'poppers'...

      "... tell me more..."

      Your interest is commendable but unfortunately belated (depending on where you live) - amyl nitrite can no longer be legally sold for 'recreational purposes' in the EU (along with isobutyl nitrite), nor the US as far as I'm aware.

      You might very well think that this is a bad thing. But of course I couldn't possibly comment...

      1. Graham Marsden

        Re: Yes, yes, cure cancer and so on, but, what of these 'poppers'...

        > amyl nitrite can no longer be legally sold for 'recreational purposes'

        But similar products are sold in (Ahem) Room Odourisers (erm, allegedly!)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes, yes, cure cancer and so on, but, what of these 'poppers'...


      You (El Reg) could have pointed out that "poppers", either Amyl Nitrate or Iso Butyl Nitrate are THE first line treatment in cases of cyanide poisoning. But no, you had to go down the old sniggering school boy route.

      Shame (with a pox) on you, Sir.

  3. 0laf Silver badge

    Quiet a few old drugs are of interest for new purposes. Even the reviled Thalidomide may have some therapeutic use in cancer treatment.

    1. dogged

      Thalidomide is currently regarded the A Number 1 Wonder Drug for the treatment of leprosy.

      Strange world.

      1. Chemist

        "Thalidomide is currently regarded the A Number 1 Wonder Drug for the treatment of leprosy."

        Have you a good ref. for this. AFAIK antibiotics and dapsone are the usual & effective treatments. Thalidomide has been used for certain complications.

        1. dogged

          Nope, it was just something my other half (a doctor) mentioned.

          Should have said so before, I suppose.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. ChemEng

          Reply Icon

          @Chemist enquiry re Thalidomide

          Sorry to be late with this but, for the record:-

          To my personal knowledge Thalidomide was certainly trialled against multiple myeloma around 2001. I understand that it is still used in this field as such. However, I believe the materials named Lenalidomide and Revlimid are both derivatives of Thalidomide, if not just alternative commercial names for the basic material.

          1. Chemist

            "To my personal knowledge Thalidomide was certainly trialled against multiple myeloma around 2001"

            I've never worked directly on cancer but I know a number of cancer areas have been interested in Thalidomide over the years

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Thalidomide isn't recommended for leprosy (Hansen's Disease):

  4. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Thumb Up

    Good to see...

    An article on these effective old medications. I'd add vitamin D to the list too. The only "downside" is that there are all out of patent, or un-patentable, but health before profit, eh?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Good to see...

      Another area that patents affect medications: Antibiotics.

      If you developed a new antibiotic that was very effective against bacteria that have developed resistance to previous antibiotics, you probably won't sell much of it initially. Why? Because doctors will want to keep it in reserve, as a last resort in order to preserve its effectiveness. Since patents only last for a finite number of years, you might not see any return on your R&D investment.

      Therefore, there is little incentive to research new classes of antibiotics.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Good to see...

      And Vitamin C too?

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Keep eating the bacon!

    At least they can treat the resulting cancer...

  6. Chemist

    Not my area but....

    AFAIK the vasodilation is due to the release in the body from nitroglycerine of nitric oxide ( yes the one from diesel exhausts and indeed many other combustion processes) The nitric oxide, which is also produced naturally by several enzymes from the amino acid arginine, modifies the activity/function of several enzymes/proteins in the endothelium and that's where the vasodilation comes from.

    1. Gazareth

      Re: Not my area but....

      See also: Viagra

  7. M Bargo

    I thought vasodilation can be achieved simply by sustained low-level exercise?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Exercise typically dilates vessels in the working muscles. You cannot expect exercise to open vessels in a tumour, even a tumour situated in a working muscle. There is even a possibility that exercise-induced vasodilation in the surrounding tissue might worsen the blood supply of a tumour. A positron emission tomography study - exercise vs no exercise - might settle that.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Many cancer patients might not be capable of any low-level exercise, let alone sustained one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Having spent a few months on a chemo ward recently standing can be quite a challenge for those who are young and fit when treatment starts. Plus when receiving treatment you are not allowed to leave the ward much less go to the gym.

    3. Chemist

      "I thought vasodilation can be achieved simply by sustained low-level exercise ?"

      But it still is mediated by nitric oxide release

  8. algoc

    Nicely written

    Just wanted to compliment the author on making that a very straightforward read.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Nicely written

      Likewise. Not immediately recognising his byline, I clicked to see his past stories.

  9. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    "The potential impact might be explosive"

    Nice one and a very interesting article.

    Nitroglycerin: DO NOT shake well before use!

    1. Anomalous Cowturd

      Re: "The potential impact might be explosive"

      Trust me, it won't be.

      An 11.2g bottle of Nitrolingual (R) spray, like I have in my hand, contains 200 doses of 400 microgrammes. 200 x 0.0004 = 0.08g of nitro per bottle. About 0.72% by weight.

      Barely enough to blow your nose...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: "The potential impact might be explosive"

        "Barely enough to blow your nose..."

        But (from experience) more than enough to give a mother of all "banging" headaches.

    2. PNGuinn

      Re: "The potential impact might be explosive"

      "Nitroglycerin: DO NOT shake well before use!"

      So - no good for homeopathy then.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other medical conditions

    The potential of nitroglycerine for medical purposes goes further. Research into how Nitric Oxide (N0) has its effect on blood vessels has led to the Viagra types of compounds.

    It is also believed that some of the damaging side effects of diabetes are linked to the high glucose levels affecting the nitric oxide function in the blood vessel walls.

  11. kurrekt

    Great article!

    Interesting and very enjoyable learning something new. Thanks Vulture, have a like.

  12. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Fight, fight, fight!

    It's funny, because I know someone who works in cancer research, and the area she's involved in is how to bugger up the blood vessels that supply the tumour, and stop it from growing any more.

    And then along come this lot, with their take one stick of dynamite every 4 hours to help the cancer get more blood and spoil the whole thing...

    It's amazing just how many different areas of promising research are going on, and how many improvements are made to various treatements every year. As well as new ones coming on stream.

    I'm sure we'll never "cure" cancer, it's a natural process after all. But I'd imagine that things will continue to improve, and I suspect at an increasing rate too - given the multiple approaches under investigation.

    But remember, only one person can live forever, and that's Connor MacLeod.

    1. AC Wilson

      Fight, fight, fight

      I dunno, I think I may be immortal also. Anyhow, so far so good. Will keep you posted.

  13. Eponymous

    Insulin Potentiation Therapy?

    Wonder if anyone has heard of Insulin Potentiation Therapy.

    Cancer cells love/crave sugar and have 10-20 times the insulin receptors of normal cells. Lower the patient's blood sugar and open the cell membranes by a controlled administration of insulin. When the cancer cells are desperate for energy (sugar), drip in a much lower (1/10th) dose of the appropriate chemo drug followed by sugar. Cancer cells suck the chemo/sugar right down leaving far less to be absorbed by other healthier cells. Far fewer side effects with more dead cancer cells. IPT is still not approved on the US side of the pond due to Big Pharma/AMA/FDA control and profit concerns, ie. it would use far less of Big Pharma's product.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Insulin Potentiation Therapy?

      "Insulin Potentiation Therapy? "

      All I'd say about this is that AFAIK glucose is transported into cells by active transport proteins (being very hydrophilic it wouldn't easily diffuse through the cell membrane) . It would seem very unlikely that any chemo. drugs would be transported by the same proteins. Not my area but if anyone else would care to comment....

  14. JohnMurray

    New uses for old drugs: A growing revenue stream....

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