Asian Shrub Could Be a Cancer-Fighter

Compound from croton plant's seeds shrank pancreatic, prostate tumors in mice

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MONDAY, Aug. 22, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Rub up against the leaves of a Southeast Asian shrub called the croton plant and you'll probably get a nasty rash on your skin.

But scientists say a compound derived from the plant's seeds, called 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), may also fight one of the deadliest malignancies in humans, pancreatic cancer.

"Pancreas cancer is a tough one to treat. Treatment options are very limited, and not many people survive. TPA has good potential for therapy so it's definitely worth pursuing," researcher Allan H. Conney, professor of chemical biology and of leukemia and cancer research at Rutgers University, New Jersey, said in a prepared statement.

In mice, TPA alone and in combination with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), a vitamin A derivative, had already been shown to be effective against leukemia, the researchers noted.

Furthermore, "We had previously demonstrated that ATRA is an effective synergist with TPA in treating prostate cancer in the laboratory so it was logical to test the combination against pancreatic cancer as well," Conney said. "We found that the TPA/ATRA combination in cell culture worked better than the individual compounds alone," Conney said.

When the researchers treated mice with pancreatic cancer with TPA alone and in combination with ATRA, they observed an inhibition of tumor growth and a reduction in tumor size. Programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the tumors substantially increased while there was a substantial decrease in tumor cell reproduction (mitosis).

"We were simultaneously stopping the growth of new cancer cells and killing those already existing. This was most dramatic when we used the TPA/ATRA combination on the tumors," Conney said.

The findings will be published in the October issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about pancreatic cancer.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Aug 15, 2005

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