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Anticancer Res. 2004 May-Jun;24(3a):1529-44.

Metals and metal compounds in cancer treatment.

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Laboratoire de Biochimie et de Biologie Moléculaire, EA 3306, IFR 53, Faculté de Pharmacie, 51 rue Cognacq-Jay, 51096 Reims cedex, France.


Metals and metal compounds have been used in medicine for several thousands of years. In this review we summarized the anti-cancer activities of the ten most active metals: arsenic, antimony, bismuth, gold, vanadium, iron, rhodium, titanium, gallium and platinum. The first reviewed metal, arsenic, presents the anomaly of displaying anti-cancer and oncogenic properties simultaneously. Some antimony derivatives, such as Sb2O3, salt (tartrate) and organic compounds, show interesting results. Bismuth directly affects Helicobacter pylori and gastric lymphoma; the effects of bismuth complexes of 6-mercaptopurine are promising. Gold(I) and (III) compounds show anti-tumour activities, although toxicity remains high. Research into the potential use of gold derivatives is still ongoing. Several derivatives of vanadium show anti-proliferative activity, but their toxicity must be overcome. Several pieces of evidence indicate that iron deprivation could be an excellent therapeutic approach; furthermore, it is synergistic with classic anti-cancer drugs. Rhodium belongs to the same group as platinum and it also presents interesting activity, but with the same nephrotoxicity. Several rhodium compounds have entered phase I clinical trials. In contrast to the platinum complexes, titanium derivatives showed no evidence of nephrotoxicity or myelotoxicity; titanocene dichloride is undergoing clinical trial. The anti-proliferative effect of gallium could be related to its competition with the iron atom; in addition a derivative appears to reverse the multidrug resistance. The last metal reviewed, platinum, has given some of the very best anti-cancer drugs. Four derivatives are used today in the clinic; their mechanism of action and of resistance are described.

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