African plants used in traditional medicinal practices have been found to contain chemicals that may stop the spread of cancer cells.
New laboratory experiments conducted at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz suggest plant-based medicines that utilize these chemical compounds might provide additional options for cancer patients who aren’t responding to standard therapies.
"The active substances present in African medicinal plants may be capable of killing off tumor cells that are resistant to more than one drug," explained Thomas Efferth, of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biochemistry – Therapeutic Life Sciences at Mainz University. "They thus represent an excellent starting point for the development of new therapeutic treatments for cancers that do not respond to conventional chemotherapy regimens."
For the past four years, Efferth and biochemist Victor Keute of the University of Dschang in Cameroon have been studying the medicinal properties in active substances contained in African plants such as the giant globe thistle, wild pepper, speargrass, and Ethiopian pepper.
Efferth noted multi-drug resistance is one of the biggest problems in cancer therapy.
"We are now looking for substances that can both break down tumor resistance and not produce side effects," said Efferth, who also works with medicinal plants used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Many plants contain toxic substances that protect them against predators and microbial diseases, some of which can be harnessed to target cancer and other diseases. The trick for pharmacologists is to determine which plant substances are medicinal and which are dangerous.
For the new study, the researchers examined more than 100 spices and plants for anti-cancer properties and identified four naturally occurring compounds — known as benzophenones — that can prevent the proliferation of the cancer cells, including multi-drug resistant strains.
"The benzophenones investigated are potentially cytotoxic substances that need to be more extensively investigated with the aim of developing new cancer drugs that are effective against susceptible and resistant cancers," said the researchers, whose work was published in the journal Phytomedicine.
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