The Role of Natural Products in the Treatment of Cancer

Cancer medicine utilizes small molecules as therapeutics. Many compounds in use today are derivatives of plant alkaloids. Among the most widely used drugs derived from plant alkaloids are the taxanes, vinca alkaloids and topoisomerase inhibitors. Antibiotic anti-tumor agents including anthracyclines, Bleomycin and Mytomycin-C have been isolated from streptomyces bacterial cultures. Several antimetabolites also have their origins in natural products.

It is evident that nature is an excellent source of effective treatments. Unfortunately, there has been hesitancy on the part of the conventional oncology community to incorporate other natural products into therapeutics. Nonetheless, a wide variety of plant extracts have significant anti-tumor activity. Among the compounds under investigation are the cyclic triterpenes, mono- and di-terpenes, as well as stilbenes and derivatives of scutellaria and glyzrrha. In addition to cytotoxic activity, many plants are effective in chemoprevention. Extracts of grape (resveratrol), chocolate, green tea (catechins), as well as colored fruits (anthocyanins) and berries (ellagic acid) can elicit protective responses, some mediated by the KEAP-1, NRF-2 pathway. Click here to read a previous article that discusses the medicinal qualities of garlic, wine and chocolate.

The arbitrary distinction between commercial therapeutics and nutritional substances has created an unnecessary barrier between conventional therapists and those who practice complimentary care. A growing cadre of physicians is developing expertise in natural product therapeutics in parallel to their traditional training. Chinese herbal and Indian ayurvedic medicine instruct physicians in the appropriate use of natural therapies. An explosion of interest in resveratrides, curcuminoids and terpenes are fueling a rebirth of interest in these naturopathic approaches.

As an editor of the Journal of Medicinal Food, I have contributed to the literature on the medicinal value of foodstuffs and natural products. Original articles on the benefits of garlic have been followed by the study of the monoterpene limonene and contributions on Chinese herbal medicines, chocolate extracts and grape seed extracts. Our laboratory has been engaged in the formal analysis of many natural products and we have reported exciting results with several classes of compounds. In one instance, an Australian extract was administered successfully in the treatment of advanced renal cancer under FDA IND. We are convinced that an exciting opportunity for cancer treatment exists in the formal study and rigorous evaluation of these biologically active molecules and combinations.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

One Response to The Role of Natural Products in the Treatment of Cancer

  1. please give some compound name that are act as “Natural Products in the Treatment of Cancer”.

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