A drug that stops people from drinking alcohol can be used to treat a deadly type of brain tumor, says a new study.

Researchers from University of Wolverhampton have shown that the drug disulfiram can be used to treat glioblastoma. Lab studies have shown that disulfiram is effective in destroying cancer cells, especially if coupled with standard cancer-fighting drug gemcitabine. Researchers say that both dislfiram and gemcitabine cross the blood brain barrier and so are effective in killing the cancer cells.

Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the tumors that can grow really fast, usually the patient lives for just 15 months after cancer diagnosis. According to estimates, in the year 2010, more than 22,000 adults in the U.S. were diagnosed and 13,140 died from brain and other nervous system cancers. Around 15 percent of all brain-cancer patients between 45 and 70 years have glioblastoma multiforme.

Chemotherapy with drugs like gemcitabine helps fight the tumor cells, but some people develop resistance to the drug.

Since disulfiram is already used to treat alcoholics for more than half century, researchers say that next phase of drug trial can begin early.

"We've been studying the cancer-fighting properties of disulfiram for over a decade, so it's very exciting to have reached a stage where clinical trials may be possible," said Dr. Weiguang Wang, from the University of Wolverhampton, and lead author of the study.

Dr. Wang said that the drug probably works by increasing levels of copper in the cancer cells that eventually generate free radicals that kill the cells. The drug doesn't affect normal tissue because cancer cells are known to have higher levels of copper than healthy cells, so additional copper in the cell kills them but not the normal cells.

"One of the big challenges in cancer treatment is how to successfully kill tumour cells without harming the surrounding tissues. Drugs like this one, which can both penetrate the blood brain barrier and increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy, could play an important role in overcoming the problem of resistance to help improve the outlook for people with brain tumours," said Dr. Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager.

The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.