New drug against cancer from medicinal plants discovered

New drug against cancer from medicinal plants discovered

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Active ingredient from Chinese medicine: effectiveness against skin cancer proven

Worldwide, more and more people are suffering from skin cancer. In this country too, the number of patients has risen sharply in recent years. Skin cancer is now the most common cancer in Germany with around 270,000 new cases per year. “Black skin cancer” (malignant melanoma) is particularly dangerous. In many cases, this disease is fatal. Researchers have now proven the effectiveness of an active ingredient known from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) against black skin cancer.

Health experts As a result, malignant melanoma, also known as black skin cancer, is one of the most dangerous types of cancer. Although it accounts for only about four percent of all skin cancers, it accounts for almost 80 percent of skin cancer deaths. Although the tumor can be treated well with early detection, as soon as the cancer has metastasized, it spreads aggressively and the chances of a cure decrease rapidly. This is also because there are few effective long-term treatment options. A promising candidate for an active ingredient against malignant melanoma comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Now its effectiveness has been proven.

Hundreds of plant extracts have been analyzed

In an international project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research) under the direction of Rudolf Bauer from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Graz, the active substance was successfully tested on cancer cells and mice. The university also managed to modify the active ingredient and further improve its effectiveness, the university explains on its website.

"The starting point was the question of which plants in TCM are used as a remedy for cancer-like diseases and whether an active ingredient against cancer can be obtained from them," explained project employee Nadine Kretschmer from the Medical University of Graz. "The definition of the term cancer varies between TCM and Western medicine, so it was interesting to look at all drugs that are used against cancer, but also cancer-like diseases."

In a pilot project, a database with several hundred potential plants was created, of which 76 were selected and 253 extracts were prepared from dried samples and tested on various cancer cells. According to the information, a plant was identified that seemed promising enough for further studies. The scientific name of this plant is Onosma paniculata Bureau & Franch., A type of solder.

Research team was able to demonstrate effectiveness

“We tested a substance called β-β-dimethylacrylshikonin, which we got from the plant, directly on cells from malignant melanoma. We were able to demonstrate its effectiveness, ”explained Kretschmer. This substance destroyed the cancer cells. The good results encouraged the researchers to carry out the first in vivo tests. Nude mice suffering from skin cancer were treated with the product by injecting them directly into the tumors to see if there were any side effects.

"This was also successful, we saw no side effects and the tumors changed and died," says the researcher. Both apoptosis, i.e. a controlled cell death induced by the body, and necrosis, i.e. uncontrolled death, were observed.

"After that, we tried to modify the substance to see if we could still improve its effectiveness," said the scientist. Of several modifications attempted, a particular shikonin derivative was found to be particularly effective. According to the announcement, the substance is theoretically suitable for the development of a drug, but there is still a long way to go before a drug is available. “Larger studies are necessary for this. And the mode of administration is still open. ”There are currently two planned follow-up projects.

It is unclear how the effect is unfolded

According to Kretschmer, the TCM was just the inspiration for the new active ingredient. It is still unclear how the plant works in TCM. “It is not clear how this will work in traditional TCM applications. TCM does not usually use just a single plant, it is usually a mixture that can be prepared in different ways, ”explained Kretschmer. In most cases, the plants are prepared as tea and boiled twice for a long time.

"If we boil our plant in this way, we will not see the anti-tumor effects in the cell culture experiment," said Kretschmer. “However, TCM also uses an oil preparation method that is then applied to the affected skin. This contains the effective shikonins in higher concentrations. "

During the course of the project, a way was also found to test the identity of the lotus root species sold as TCM funds. "There are roots that look very similar to the plant we examined, and we have found that the species are often sold under false names in China." This is problematic because some of the plants sold contain substances that are harmful can.

Kretschmer and the research team found a thin-layer chromatographic method that can be used to differentiate between plants and that is simple enough to be used in pharmacies, for example. According to the information, the basic project had a term of four years and was completed in early 2019. The company cooperated with the Medical University in Graz and the Helmholtz Institute in Munich. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University of Graz: New active ingredient against skin cancer, (accessed: September 21, 2019), University of Graz

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