Common plant kills cancer cells

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have produced a compound with anti-cancer properties using a common flowering garden plant.

The team extracted the compound from feverfew – a common flowering plant grown in many gardens.

The compound was modified and used to kill chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) cells – a form of cancer that commonly affects older people.

Feverfew – bachelor buttons – is grown in many gardens and is sold in some health food shops as a remedy for migraine and to relieve aches and pains.

University of Birmingham researchers were investigating the effects of ‘parthenolide’, a substance with anti-cancer properties that is found in Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew). Feverfew is a short-lived perennial plant, so, once it was discovered that the plant produced optimum levels of the compound, scientists had to come up with a way to produce enough for a series of studies.

Once this problem was solved, the Birmingham team developed a method to extract the parthenolide directly from plants, and then modified the process to produce compounds that killed cancer cells in in-vitro experiments.

“The parthenolide compound appears to work by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells. Cancer cells already have higher levels of these unstable molecules and so the effect of the parthenolide is to increase levels of these to a critical point, causing the cell to die,” states Science Daily.

The findings, published in MedChemComm, revealed promising new ways to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

“There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time, the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide. With expertise from colleagues in the school of chemistry, we’ve been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients,” says study leader Dr Angelo Agathanggelou.

These compounds make them much more promising as drugs that could be used in the clinic.

“This research is important, not only because we have shown a way of producing parthenolide that could make it much more accessible to researchers, but also because we’ve been able to improve its ‘drug-like’ properties to kill cancer cells. It’s a clear demonstration that parthenolide has the potential to progress from the flowerbed into the clinic,” said Professor John Fossey, from the University of Birmingham’s school of chemistry.

While feverfew has positive heath benefits, long-term use followed by abrupt discontinuation may induce a withdrawal syndrome featuring rebound headaches and muscle and joint pains.

It may also cause allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and flatulence and may interact with blood thinners and a variety of medications and could increase the risk of bleeding.

Do you have feverfew growing in your garden? Have you ever used it to relive headaches or pain?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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