The suppressive effect of l-ascorbic acid on the growth of bone marrow cells from patients with acute nonlymphocytic leukemia was studied using a modified agar culture method featuring daily feeding to allow the growth of leukemic cell colonies. In seven of 28 patients (25%), the numbers of leukemic cell colonies grown in culture were reduced to 21% of control by the addition of l-ascorbic acid (0.3 mm) to the culture medium. Glutathione did not suppress leukemic cell colonies although it has a similar oxidation-reduction potential to that of l-ascorbic acid. The addition of l-ascorbic acid reduced the pH of the medium. However, a comparable reduction of pH by the addition of HCl did not suppress leukemic cell colonies. In simultaneous cultures for leukemic and normal marrow cells, the suppression of leukemic cell colony was noted with a concentration of l-ascorbic acid as low as 0.1 mm (a concentration achievable in vivo), but normal myeloid colonies were not suppressed until the concentration of l-ascorbic acid reached an extremely high level (1 mm). In conclusion, growth of leukemic cells in culture was suppressed by l-ascorbic acid in a substantial proportion of patients with acute nonlymphocytic leukemia. This suppression was a specific effect of l-ascorbic acid and was not due to its oxidation-reduction potential or pH change. Leukemic cells were selectively affected at an l-ascorbic acid concentration attainable in vivo while normal hemopoietic cells were not suppressed.
This investigation was supported by Grant R0-1 CA 20717 from NIH.