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African medicinal plants may stop tumor growth from multi-drug resistant cancers: Research

6/27/13 5:14 PM printable article

Originally published June 26 2013
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African medicinal plants may stop tumor growth from multi-drug resistant cancers: Research
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Traditional African medicinal plants may contain naturally occurring compounds that
effectively kill drug-resistant cancers, according to research conducted by Victor Keute of the University of
Dschang in Cameroon and Thomas Efferth of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.
"The active substances present in African medicinal plants may be capable of killing off tumor cells that are
resistant to more than one drug," Efferth said. "They thus represent an excellent starting point for the
development of new therapeutic treatments for cancers that do not respond to conventional chemotherapy

Investigating nature's pharmacy

Because plants are unable to flee from predators, evolution has imbued them with a wide array of physical
and chemical defenses instead. Many of these chemicals are phenomenally complicated and potent
venomous and anti-microbial agents, and take the place of the complex cellular immune system found in
Because these compounds evolved to kill many of the same pathogens that afflict human beings, they can
often be used as highly effective medicines. The problem is that many plant compounds also evolved to deter
animal predators, including large mammals such as ourselves. That means that when analyzing the defensive
chemicals produced by plants, scientists need to work hard to distinguish between those that are medicinal
and those that are poisonous or harmful.
Efferth and Kuete have been collaborating together for four years, investigating traditional African medicinal
plants including the Ethiopian pepper, giant globe thistle, speargrass and wild pepper. So far, they have
tested a total of more than 100 plants and spices in search of cytotoxic (cancer-killing) effects.
Promisingly, they have already uncovered at least four naturally occurring chemicals in the family known as
the benzophenones that are effective at preventing the proliferation of cancer cells, including multi-drug
resistant varieties.
"We have already found an entire series of benzophenones and other phytochemicals that are able to elude
resistance mechanisms and thus offer many new opportunities for continued research," Efferth said.

The challenge of drug resistance

Multi-drug-resistant cancer strains are those that fail to respond to more than one standard drug treatment.
These cancer varieties are notoriously hard to treat and are far more lethal than standard varieties. Although
in some cases, drug resistance can be overcome with higher drug doses, such high doses also increase the

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African medicinal plants may stop tumor growth from multi-drug resistant cancers: Research

6/27/13 5:14 PM

risk and magnitude of the often severe side effects associated with cancer treatments.
One of the things that makes drug-resistant cancers so difficult to deal with is that cancers can evolve drug
resistance through several separate mechanisms. In their research, Efferth and Kuete are testing the African
plants against a cancer cell line that uses three separate drug-resistance strategies. The first, known as
transporter-mediated resistance, occurs when a substance called P-glycoprotein causes drugs to be
prematurely flushed out of cancer cells. The second, tumor-suppressor-gene-mediated resistance, results
from a mutation to protein p53 that makes cancer cells enormously aggressive and resistant. The third,
oncogene-mediated resistance, occurs when the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signals cancerous
tumors to accelerate their growth, overwhelming the capacity of drugs to kill them.
Yet the researchers have already discovered substances from the African plants that are effective against all
of these strategies. They are now further testing these chemicals in the hopes of developing them into
effective drugs.
"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," they wrote recently in the journal Phytomedicine.
"We are now looking for substances that can both break down tumor resistance and not produce side
effects," Efferth said.
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