Naltrexone is a drug that is used to treat alcohol or opiate dependence. It’s one of a class of drugs called ‘opoid receptor antagonists’. What makes this an interesting drug from an anti-cancer perspective is its reported activities on the immune system when given in low doses. Low dose naltrexone (LDN) has been reported to slow proliferation of cancer cells in a variety of different cancer types – including hard to treat cancers such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer. The use of LDN is what is called an ‘off-label’ use of a drug - in other words it describes a case where a drug for one disease is also used for a different disease. At the moment most off-label uses of LDN are for treating auto-immune diseases, particularly Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn’s Disease.
What is also interesting is how patients are at the forefront of pushing for the use of LDN. Patient-led organisations such as the LDN Research Trust. In their own words:
Originally set up by a small group of people who have Multiple Sclerosis, the Trust has helped over 11,000 people with different autoimmune conditions obtain LDN from their GP or neurologist, either through private prescription or the Public Health Service.
The primary aim of the Trust is to raise funds for clinical trials into LDN, starting with those for MS and then other diseases as originally suggested by the late Dr Bernard Behari, who discovered the clinical effects of LDN on people.
The long term goal of the Trust is for everyone to be given access to LDN on through the public health system for all conditions where it could be of benefit.
The latest step in the campaign for greater recognition of LDN is the launch of LDN Awareness Week from September 12th – 18th. Events for this include the first Irish LDN Aware Conference on September 17th, the release of a DVD aimed at medical practitioners and patients, and the publishing of a web site (http://awarenessweek.ldnresearchtrust.org/).
This is a great example of what patients can do when they get organised, and it’s a great inspiration to those of us who want to do more for cancer patients. If the LDN Research Trust can succeed in getting more research done while helping even more patients gain access to the drug, then that’s a fantastic achievement. For the moment, we can only hope that publicly funded scientists and clinicians take note of what’s going on and act to push forward the trials and research necessary to prove one way or another how useful this drug is for cancer and other diseases.