Plant sources of anti-cancer agents
In the 1950s, scientists began systematically examining natural organisms as a source of useful anti-cancer substances. It has recently been argued that "the use of natural products has been the single most successful strategy in the discovery of novel medicines".
Plants need to defend themselves from attack by micro-organisms, in particular fungi, and they do this by producing anti-fungal chemicals that are toxic to fungi. Because fungal and human cells are similar at a biochemical level it is often the case that chemical compounds intended for plant defence have an inhibitory effect on human cells, including human cancer cells. Those plant chemicals that are selectively more toxic to cancer cells than normal cells have been discovered in screening programs and developed as chemotherapy drugs
Research and development process
Some plants that indicate potential as an anticancer agent in laboratory-based in vitro research – for example, Typhonium flagelliforme, and Murraya koenigii are currently being studied. There can be many years between promising laboratory work and the availability of an effective anti-cancer drug: Monroe Eliot Wall discovered anti-cancer properties in Camptotheca in 1958, but it was not until 1996 – after further research and rounds of clinical trials – that topotecan, a synthetic derivative of a chemical in the plant, was approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration.
- Camptotheca acuminata
- Catharanthus roseus
- Podophyllum spp.
- Taxus brevifolia
- Euphobia peplus
- Maytenus ovatus
- Herbal medicine
- Experimental cancer treatments
- Chemotherapy regimens
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network
- Alternative cancer treatments
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