Credit: Schoenfeld, et al.
The 11 evaluable patients enrolled in the brain cancer safety trial received three infusions of vitamin C a week for 2 months followed by two infusions per week for 7 months while receiving standard care radiation and chemotherapy. The goal of each infusion was to raise the concentration of vitamin C in a patient's blood to 20,000 μM, as compared to a blood level of about 70 μM found in most adults. The high dose is necessary because vitamin C has a half-life of about two hours in the circulation of humans. The treatment was generally well tolerated; with modest side effects including frequent trips to the bathroom and dry mouth. Rarely, some patients developed high blood pressure that subsided quickly following infusion.
Why is this approach safe? Vitamin C, even at high levels, isn't toxic to normal cells. The research group at Iowa found, however, that tumor tissue's abnormally high levels of redox active iron molecules (a by-product of abnormal mitochondrial metabolism) react with vitamin C to form hydrogen peroxide and free radicals derived from hydrogen peroxide. These free radicals are believed to cause DNA damage selectively in cancer cells (versus normal cells) leading to enhanced cancer cell death as well as sensitization to radiation and chemotherapy in cancer cells.
The safety study sets the stage for phase II clinical trials looking at whether high dose vitamin C is effective at extending overall lifespan and quality of life for patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. The researchers are currently enrolling patients with stage 4 lung cancer and will soon begin enrolling people with glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer) in these phase II trials. They are hopeful that brain cancer responses to radiation and chemotherapy can be enhanced in these phase II trials. This guarded optimism is based on the phase I trial data showing an increase in overall survival of 4-6 months in 11 glioblastoma multiforme patients (18-22 months) versus the 14-16 months survival typically seen with the standard treatment.
"The majority of cancer patients we work with are excited to participate in clinical trials that could benefit future patient outcomes down the line," says co-senior author Bryan Allen, who led the clinical side of the study. "Results look promising but we're not going to know if this approach really improves therapy response until we complete these phase II trials."
The cost per patient above standard insurance billing for the phase II vitamin C glioblastoma multiforme protocol is approximately $8000 spread over 9 months of test infusions. This cost can be less than a single dose of some immunotherapy and/or chemotherapy drugs.
Schoenfeld et al. O2 and H2O2-Mediated Disruption of Fe Metabolism Causes the Differential Susceptibility of NSCLC and GBM Cancer Cells to Pharmacological Ascorbate. Cancer Cell, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2017.02.018 [Abstract]