Cancer treatments sometimes come from unexpected places, like marijuana, and now a research team from Duke University has demonstrated a new treatment from a type of alcohol. Ethanol — the same stuff we get turnt on — has been studied for the possibility that it might cause cancer, but it also turns out to have applications as a cancer treatment. Booze giveth and booze taketh away.
Ethanol can kill cancer cells when injected directly into tumors (a technique called “ethanol ablation” or “what we did in college”), but it hasn’t been used as a common treatment because it requires so much ethanol that surrounding tissue can be damaged. Injecting booze into yourself isn’t exactly the safest proposition. Nonetheless, ethanol ablation has been successfully used on some cancers in the liver or thyroid with fibrous material surrounding the tumor to hold in the alcohol. Robert Morhard and his team at Duke looked for a way to improve ethanol’s treatment capability, and they seem to have found it.
They mixed ethanol with ethyl cellulose, which turned into a gel when injected into the tumor and stayed in place. They then treated hamsters with squamous cell carcinoma with regular ethanol ablation and the new type of ethanol. With regular ethanol, four out of twelve tumors regressed after eight days. With the new version, all seven tumors were completely killed.
It’s a very small sample size, to be clear, but it’s promising not only for its potential effectiveness but also for its simplicity and its very low cost. The price was under $5 per treatment, making it an affordable and surgery-free option that opens up cancer treatment to almost any patient in the world. There’s something to drink to.