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An antidepressant combined with a drug derived from vitamin A could be used to treat a common adult form of leukaemia, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research have discovered that tranylcypromine (TCP), an antidepressant tablet when combined with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), a vitamin A derivation, cancer can be cured.

ATRA has successfully treated a rare sub-type of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). ATRA works by encouraging the leukaemia cells to mature and die naturally. But this drug has not been effective for the more common types of AMLs.

Researchers believe that when TCP is combined with ATRA, it has the capability to cure cancer.

Every year year, more than 2,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a type of cancer characterised by the uncontrolled growth of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow, according to researchers.

Both the retinoid ATRA and the antidepressant TCP are already available in the UK and off-patent, so these drugs should not be expensive for the health service, said Dr Kevin Petrie from the Institute of Cancer Research.

According to him, AML remains quite difficult to treat and is often fatal, with rates of the disease projected to increase significantly as the population ages.

" Importantly, we believe these drugs are targeting only the cancer cells and leaving normal healthy cells largely untouched, so we are hopeful that they would have fewer side-effects for patients than standard drugs. We look forward to seeing the results of the clinical trials," Dr Petrie said.

Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said the results were extremely significant. According to him, current drugs for AML are very aggressive and many older patients have a poor outlook as they cannot tolerate treatment.

"In finding a way to expand its use, we would have the potential to save thousands of lives a year," he said.