Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

ALS Drug Slows Melanoma Growth

Study Shows Riluzole Shrinks Tumors Without Toxic Side Effects
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 15, 2008 (San Diego) -- A drug used to treat Lou Gehrig's disease appears to curb the growth of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, a small study shows.

New Jersey researchers studied riluzole, which is used to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Tumors were completely wiped out in three of nine people with advanced melanoma who were given the drug for two weeks.

"Their tumors, which you could see outside the body before treatment, completely disappeared," James Goydos, MD, tells WebMD. Goydos is a surgical oncologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick.

In two more patients, imaging scans showed that tumors had shrunk. Three more patients remained stable. One patient got worse, with signs of tumor growth.

The researchers tracked the patients' progress before and after the treatment with biopsies and PET scans, a form of nuclear-medicine imaging typically used to detect cancer.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Riluzole Lowers Glutamate Levels

Each year, more than 53,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In the past 30 years, the number of Americans who develop melanoma annually has more than doubled.

In about 70% of cases, people with melanoma develop lesions in body areas that are exposed to the sun. The cancer can then spread to other parts of the body -- typically the lymph nodes first and then other organs.

The new study involved people whose disease had spread, or metastasized, to the lymph nodes.

The work builds on the research team's earlier discovery that melanoma cells release a lot of a substance called glutamate.

Too much glutamate can overstimulate brain cells to the point that they burn out -- a possible explanation of what happens in ALS, says Suzie Chen, PhD, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University.

Riluzole, also sold as Rilutek, fights ALS by lowering glutamate levels. "So my collaborators said, let's test it against melanoma. And much to our surprise, the drug slowed the growth rate of melanoma cells [in the test tube]," Chen says.

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
precancerous lesions slideshow
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
screening tests for men
Vitamin D
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
Brilliant sun rays