Ovarian cancerA gold-containing drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis - could potentially improve the prognosis for ovarian cancer patients with a faulty BRCA1 gene, according to new lab research.

The study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK found that auranofin was effective against ovarian cancer cells associated with the BRCA1 mutation.

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The BRCA1 gene – along with a similar gene called BRCA2 – is designed to repair damage to DNA as cells divide. The absence of this ability increases the risk of cells developing abnormalities that can trigger ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer.

This study was laboratory research examining the effect of the arthritis drug, auranofin, on ovarian cancer cells with and without BRCA1 mutation. Auranofin is not currently licensed in the UK.

When ovarian cancer cells were treated with auranofin in the lab, researchers found the drug's cancer-killing properties were most effective at treating ovarian cancer cells lacking a "healthy" version of the BRCA1 gene.

Professor Awadhesh Jha and colleagues investigated the effect of auranofin on ovarian cancer cells grown in the lab and found that auranofin caused damage to the DNA of cancerous cells with BRCA1 mutations, helping to kill them. The results suggest there may be promise for this drug in the treatment of ovarian cancers associated with BRCA1 mutations.

Although auranofin is currently used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in the US, and has been tested in early-stage ovarian cancer studies in humans, much more study is needed looking into its effectiveness and safety before it could be approved for use in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Study lead Prof Jha said: "It suggests that auranofin has the potential to be considered for future clinical studies to treat such ovarian cancers and this could serve as the springboard to use other available drugs which are not used as chemotherapeutic drugs."

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