Poisonous Contacts

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Science  09 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5975, pp. 184-185
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189198

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In the 1939 play Arsenic and Old Lace, the main character discovers many secrets about his family, including that his aunts are serial killers who murder lonely old men by serving them elderberry wine poisoned with arsenic. In addition to its use as a lethal poison, arsenic has been used since ancient times to treat human illnesses, including infectious diseases and malignancies (1). The remarkable story of arsenic as a modern medical treatment continues, and on page 240 of this issue (2), Zhang et al. add to our understanding of how its therapeutic effects have made acute promyelocytic leukemia “curable,” with survival rates of ∼90% (3).