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Ancient Remedy Performs New Tricks

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Science  02 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5275, pp. 578
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5275.578


An improved cancer therapy for a rare blood cancer called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) may be the result of a merger between traditional Chinese medicine and modern molecular biology. A team of researchers in Shanghai and Harbin, China, has found that arsenic trioxide, the active ingredient in a traditional Chinese remedy for a variety of ailments, can induce remissions in up to 70% of APL patients. It apparently achieves this by triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death) in APL cells. The results have excited Western oncologists, who recall that a decade ago the same team both developed the current clinical treatment for APL and helped to uncover how it functions within the cell.