In a blow against oncologists' hopes that arsenic might serve as a versatile antitumor agent, researchers have found that the 33rd element of the periodic table may actually speed the growth of tumors.
High doses of arsenic are toxic to the heart, but lesser amounts have been shown to work therapeutically against leukemia. Some researchers therefore have considered periodic arsenic infusions for treating other forms of cancer.
The first published experiments on how arsenic affects blood vessel growth in animals could quell that optimism.
Administering small amounts of the arsenic ion arsenite to cancerfree mice and to chicken embryos causes extra blood vessels to develop, says Aaron Barchowsky of the University of Pittsburgh. In cancer, such vessel development typically supports the growth of tumors.