Urban legend has it that the cure for cancer is probably buried in the root of some obscure plant in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, and we just haven’t found it yet. While that’s overstating what any one medicine can do to fight what’s actually hundreds of different diseases, that doesn’t mean natural remedies don’t offer some valuable tools in the fight against cancer. Last year Richard Jones from the Ben May Department for Cancer Research found that a compound in beehives could be used to treat prostate cancer. Now, one of his colleagues has shown that an extract from a cousin of ginseng can kill colon cancer cells without affecting the normal cells around them.
Wei Du, PhD, studies ways to develop more targeted treatments for cancer by analyzing the genetic profile of cancer cells and tumors to find mutations that can be exploited for therapy. In a recent study published in Cell Death and Disease, he worked with Chun-Su Yuan, MD, PhD, from the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research to examine the effects a compound called falcarindiol has on colorectal cancer cells.
Falcarindiol is an extract from a plant called Oplopanax horridus, or devil’s club, which is related to ginseng. While it sounds like something from a Harry Potter book, it’s not the mythical cancer-curing plant from the rainforest; it’s actually a shrub that grows in the Pacific Northwest, western Canada and Alaska. It’s known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and is also found in small amounts in carrots, which may protect them from fungus. But most interesting are its anti-cancer effects.