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Feverfew could hold a secret to treating an incurable cancer

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Posted August 2, 2019

Feverfew is a common flowering garden plant. It has small flowers and looks rather lovely, but it is also used as medicine. In fact, it is sold in health food shops as a remedy for migraine and other aches and pains. Now scientists from the University of Birmingham were able to extract a specific compound from the feverfew and modify it to combat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Feverfew is grown in many gardens around the world, but is also sold as a remedy for migraine and other aches and pains. Image credit: Vsion via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)

Several years ago scientists identified a compound called parthenolide as having anti-cancer properties. It is available commercially, however, its research is rather slow due to other poor characteristics. All major problems can be traced to less than perfect laboratory setting where the compound has been produced.

Now scientists decided to turn to nature for answers and were able to show a method for producing the parthenolide directly from plants. Furthermore, scientists found a way to modify the parthenolide so that it would kill chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells. Results have been confirmed in in vitro experiments, but clinical trials are set for the future.

Scientists say that the parthenolide works by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species in cells. This increase reaches a critical level of reactive oxygen species in cells and they die. This would be particularly useful for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which typically affects more older people. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is rare in Asia and more common in Western populations, where  8% of individuals over the age of 70 suffer from this type of cancer.

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia can be treated by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, or bone marrow transplantation, but in most cases it is not treated. It is incurable, but the onset is so slow people live normal lives for many years. There are no evidence to make doctors believe that early treatment would improve life expectancy. However, in some cases treatment is necessary and parthenolide from feverfew could certainly help.

Professor John Fossey, one of the authors of the study, said: “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”.

Feverfews are everywhere – there would never be a problem with supply. However, now scientists have to focus on further research and trials. They want to see their parthenolide in clinical trials as soon as possible.

 

Source: University of Birmingham

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