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Blocking of copper 'aids cancer fight'

A thirst for copper could be the Achilles heel of some cancers, scientists believe.

It may allow them to be tackled with drugs used to block copper absorption in patients suffering from a rare disease.

Cancers with a mutation in the BRAF gene need copper to promote their growth, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

They include melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer that kills more than 2,000 people in the UK each year.

Lead scientist Professor Christopher Counter, from Duke University School of Medicine in the US, said: "BRAF-positive cancers like melanoma almost hunger for copper."

The BRAF gene is involved in regulating cell division and "differentiation" – the process by which cells become more specialised. Aggressive cancer cells are highly undifferentiated.

When mutated, BRAF causes cells to grow in an out-of-control fashion.

Laboratory experiments conducted by Prof Counter's team showed blocking the copper uptake of tumour cells with the mutation suppressed their growth.

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