Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Free Radical and Radiation Biology

First Advisor

Spitz, Douglas R.

Second Advisor

Allen, Bryan G.

First Committee Member

Spitz, Douglas R.

Second Committee Member

Allen, Bryan G.

Third Committee Member

Buettner, Garry R.

Fourth Committee Member

Cullen, Joseph J.

Fifth Committee Member

Domann, Frederick E.

Sixth Committee Member

Weiner, George J.


Pharmacological ascorbate, intravenous administration of high-dose vitamin C aimed at peak plasma concentrations ~ 20 mM, has recently re-emerged, after a controversial history, as a potential anti-cancer agent in combination with standard-of-care radiation and chemotherapy-based regimens. The anti-cancer effects of ascorbate are hypothesized to involve the auto-oxidation or metal-catalyzed oxidation of ascorbate to generate H2O2, and preclinical in vitro and in vivo studies in a variety of disease sites demonstrate the efficacy of adjuvant ascorbate. Furthermore, phase I clinical trials in pancreatic and ovarian cancer have demonstrated safety and tolerability in combination with chemotherapy and preliminary results suggest therapeutic efficacy. Both preclinical in vitro and in vivo studies as well as phase I clinical trials suggest a cell-intrinsic mechanism of selective toxicity of cancer cells as compared to normal cells; however, the mechanism(s) for cancer cell-selective toxicity remain unknown.

The current study aims to investigate the preclinical therapeutic efficacy of pharmacological ascorbate in combination with standard cancer therapies in three novel disease sites: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), and some histological subtypes of sarcoma. In vitro experiments demonstrate cancer cell-selective susceptibility to pharmacological ascorbate as compared to normal cells of identical cell lineages. Furthermore, in vivo murine xenograft models of NSCLC, GBM, and fibrosarcoma demonstrate therapeutic efficacy of pharmacological ascorbate in combination with chemotherapy and/or radiation as compared to chemotherapy and/or radiation alone without any additional therapeutic toxicity. Additionally, a phase I clinical trial in GBM subjects demonstrates the safety and tolerability of ascorbate in combination with radiation and temozolomide therapy. Although not powered for efficacy, preliminary results suggest that ascorbate may be efficacious in these subjects (median survival 18.2 months vs. 14.6 months in historical controls), and, importantly, that ascorbate therapy may be independent of MGMT promoter methylation status (median survival 23.0 months vs. 12.7 months in historical controls with absent MGMT promoter methylation). Preliminary results from a phase II clinical trial of ascorbate in combination with carboplatin/paclitaxel chemotherapy in advanced stage NSCLC subjects also demonstrate promising preliminary results related to efficacy (objective response rate (ORR) 29% and disease control rate (DCR) 93% vs. historical control ORR 15-19% and DCR 40%).

In addition to demonstrating the potential efficacy of pharmacological ascorbate in combination with standard anti-cancer therapies, this work demonstrates that the selective toxicity of ascorbate may be mediated by perturbations in cancer cell oxidative metabolism. Increased mitochondrial-derived O2- and H2O2 disrupts cellular iron metabolism, resulting in increased iron uptake via Transferrin Receptor and a larger intracellular labile iron pool. The larger pool of labile iron in cancer cells underlies the selective sensitivity of cancer cells to ascorbate toxicity through pro-oxidant chemistry with ascorbate-produced H2O2. This mechanism is further supported by the finding of increased levels of O2- and labile iron in patient lobectomy-derived NSCLC tissue as compared to adjacent normal fresh frozen tissue. Together, these studies demonstrate the feasibility, selective toxicity, tolerability, and potential efficacy of pharmacological ascorbate in NSCLC, GBM, and sarcoma therapy and propose that further investigations of tumor and systemic iron metabolism are required to determine if these alterations can be exploited to enhance therapeutic efficacy or serve as therapeutic biomarkers.


cancer, free radical biology, glioblastoma multiforme, iron metabolism, non-small cell lung cancer, pharmacological ascorbate


xix, 174 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 150-174).


Copyright © 2018 Joshua David Schoenfeld