A remarkable breakthrough in cancer treatment has emerged from the laboratories of Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, as detailed in the latest edition of the International Journal of Pharmaceutics (DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2024.123800). Disulfiram (DSF), a drug traditionally used to treat alcohol dependency, is now under the spotlight for its newly discovered highly effective anti-tumor properties.

The Rebirth of Disulfiram: From Alcoholism to Oncology

Disulfiram works by deterring individuals from alcohol consumption by causing unpleasant effects when alcohol is ingested. However, it isn’t this deterrent property that has piqued the interest of cancer researchers. Instead, it’s the drug’s ability to activate the endogenous presence of copper ions (Cu2+) within the tumor microenvironment that offers a promising new avenue for cancer therapy. Initial studies have emphasized DSF’s capacity to inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cells when used in conjunction with copper.

Activating Copper’s Cancer-Fighting Potential with DSF

The team, led by researcher Xinxin Liang along with co-investigator Chunxue Li, from the Department of Pharmaceutics, School of Pharmacy, at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, aimed to optimize how DSF could harness copper’s toxicity against cancer cells. Their innovative work led to the development of a liposomal form of copper-diethyldithiocarbamate (Cu(DDC)_2), which is a compound formed when DSF interacts with copper ions.

Liposomes: A Trojan Horse for Cancer Cells

Liposomes are microscopic spheres made of a lipid bilayer that can encapsulate drugs and deliver them effectively to their target. By encasing Cu(DDC)_2 in these liposomes, the team hopes to ensure a targeted delivery system that could reduce the ability of cancer cells to expel copper ions, therefore heightening the compound’s toxicity to the tumor while sparing normal cells. This delivery method could mitigate the previous challenges faced with DSF therapy by ensuring higher bioavailability and specificity.

From the Lab: A Turning Point in Cancer Treatment

In their article, “Activate the endogenous Cu2+,” the researchers describe the process of encapsulating DSF-activated copper into liposomes. This strategic move not only utilizes DSF’s interaction with copper but also taps into liposomes’ inherent benefits such as biocompatibility, reduced toxicity, and ability to bypass drug resistance mechanisms.

The Study and Findings: A Glimpse into the Future of Chemotherapy

The research, which spanned several years and involved a multidisciplinary team from the university’s Department of Pharmaceutics and School of Functional Food and Wine, centered on converting cancer cell’s vulnerability against copper into a weapon against the disease itself. Early results from in vitro and in vivo studies suggest that the liposomal Cu(DDC)_2 is significantly more effective at inhibiting tumor growth than either DSF or copper alone.

Ethical Considerations and Funding Transparency

In line with modern scientific inquiry standards, the authors have made a declaration of competing interests—or rather, the absence thereof—in their paper. Ensuring transparency, they affirmed no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have influenced their research results.

Looking Ahead: A Promising Horizon for Cancer Patients

With the research still in its early stages, the implications for future clinical applications are vast. Potentially, DSF in its new liposomal form could represent a new class of chemotherapeutic agents, offering hope for improved outcomes in cancer treatment.


1. Disulfiram cancer treatment
2. Liposomal copper formulation
3. Innovative chemotherapy agent
4. DSF anti-tumor effects
5. Copper ion cancer therapy


Liang, X., Li, C., Yuan, W., Ji, M., Zhang, J., Yan, M., Lu, Q., Gou, J., Yin, T., He, H., Tang, X., & Zhang, Y. (2024). Activate the endogenous Cu2+. International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 123800. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2024.123800.

With five disposable references that point to a future that could see disulfiram, an ancient drug, rekindled with a new purpose – fighting cancer. This synergy between old substances and new technologies is emblematic of the iterative nature of science – constantly building on the past to create a brighter future for all.

End Note

Science, medicine, and ultimately the future of cancer treatment are poised on the precipice of change. The promise held in the research of Liang and her team represents not just a scientific curiosity but a potential lifeline for those grappling with cancer. As studies continue to progress and translate into clinical trials, hope surges anew for a future where cancer’s lethal touch is diminished by humanity’s tenacity and ingenuity.

As scientists continue to unlock the mysteries of drugs like disulfiram within the realms of oncology, they leave in their wake a testament to the power of reimagining and repurposing. Indeed, the path towards a cancer-free world appears ever brighter when lit by the beacon of innovative research.