University of Iowa doctors study effects of vitamin C in cancer treatments

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:34 PM CST
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BETTENDORF, Iowa (KWQC) - Researchers with the University of Iowa are looking into how vitamin C could help cancer patients along with their normal treatments for the top three deadliest cancers in the country.

They presented early findings at the Waterfront Convention Center Thursday night as part of the college of medicine’s ‘Mini Medical School Series.’

The study involves treating certain cancers with vitamin C through an IV along with a patient’s regular chemotherapy or radiation.

Since 2008, doctors Bryan Allen and Joseph Cullen have been researching the role the vitamin can play in the treatment of brain, lung and pancreatic cancers.

Typically, oral vitamin C supplements come in several milligram doses.

However, these experimental treatments give doses of 75 to 125 grams straight into the bloodstream.

According to Cullen results have shown the vitamin is absorbed almost 1,000 times more through this method.

“When you take vitamin C orally, you only get very small amounts in your bloodstream,” Cullen said. “What we do is give large, very large doses, and we give it intravenously ... At those doses that we obtain in the bloodstream, it can kill the cancer cells.”

Allen said the fact that this is a well-known vitamin helps their research tremendously.

“This is safe,” Allen said. “[Patients say] ‘I’m willing to try to do this.’ Oftentimes, people hear scary drugs. And [are] like, ‘Whoa, I don’t know if I want to do that.’ This is well received by our population.”

The supplement inhibits a process that almost resembles a piece of metal rusting. In this case, a tumor’s growth would slow and kind of “rust” away.

Early trials show this treatment’s only adverse effects are thirst and in some cases hunger during the infusion of vitamin C, while showing significant results.

“In some of the phase two trials, we’ve shown that it actually extends overall survival,” Cullen said. “In one of our phase one trials in pancreatic cancer, specifically, it showed quite nicely it extended overall survival. We have three long-term survivors from that.”

The ‘Mini Medical School’ program’s goal is to spread the word and maybe recruit more trial participants.

“We want to tell the community ‘Hey, here’s the great things that we’re doing. Here’s how we’re trying to help improve our cancer therapy,’” Allen said. “Getting that out to the community is part of our job as professors and as scientists.”

Some phase two clinical trials are currently still happening. The study will then expand to other research hospitals in phase three, however, it’s still too early to tell when those trials may start.