Can ancient Chinese tree extract treat pancreatic cancer?
The bark of an ancient Chinese tree holds promise in the fight against pancreatic cancer - with the potential to make inroads against several more variants of the disease.
Led by an Indian-origin scientist, a team at University of Texas' (UT) Health Science Centre has already explored the use of extract from the Amur cork tree's bark in treating prostate cancer.
Now, the team has found that deadly pancreatic cancers share some similar development pathways with prostate tumours.
"The cork tree extract blocks those pathways and inhibits the scarring that thwarts anti-cancer drugs," said A. Pratap Kumar, a researcher at the centre.
"Fibrosis is a process of uncontrolled scarring around the tumour gland. Once you have fibrotic tissue, the drugs cannot get into the cancer," he explained.
Liver and kidney tumours also develop fibrosis and the resulting resistance to drugs, he said, and there are no drugs currently targeting that pathway in those cancers.
"The two pathways, or proteins, that contribute to fibrosis in those tumours also encourage Cox-2 - an enzyme that causes inflammation. The cork tree extract appears to suppress that as well," said Dr Jingjing Gong, currently pursuing post-doctoral studies at Yale University.
The complex interrelationship of these substances is the million-dollar question and the next step is to solve this, he added.
In a promising prostate cancer clinical study of 24 patients, all the patients tolerated the treatment well, claimed Dr Kumar.
The potential of natural substances to treat and cure disease has great appeal.
The advantage of cork tree extract - available as a dietary supplement in capsule form - has already been established as safe for use in patients, said the study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
(Posted on 03-03-2014)