The Role of Natural Products in the Treatment of Cancer
July 29, 2010 1 Comment
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.