IISc finds two natural compounds to treat cancer

A breed of natural cures for cancer has now been found in Quercetin and plant Vernonia Condensata


The International Agency for Research on Cancer has estimated 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide in the year 2012, of which eight million cases were from developing countries. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has estimated 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide in the year 2012, of which eight million cases were from developing countries. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Hyderabad: Turmeric’s uses in treating various types of cancers have gained ground in the last few years. A similar breed of natural cures for cancers has now been found by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, in Quercetin, a compound, and the plant Vernonia Condensata.

Quercetin is found in foods such as green tea, apples, whole grains and several other fruits and leaves. Vernonia Condensata is used as a nature cure in the treatment of cough, pneumonia, stomach ache, digestive and liver problems, snakebite and diarrhoea.

Use of these natural extracts has significantly reduced tumour sizes and increased longevity, two separate IISc studies have found.

These findings become relevant in the backdrop of the increasing incidence of cancer across the globe. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates there were 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2012, eight million of them from developing countries. The World Health Organisation projects that the number of cancer cases will go up by 70% in the next two decades.

The most common causes of cancer deaths are lung, liver, stomach, colorectal, breast and oesophageal cancer. The widely used methods of treatment include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“All these methods of treatment carry considerable side effects and, thus, treating with naturally occurring compounds is the most desirable way,” said S.C. Raghavan, associate professor, Department of Biochemistry, IISc.

Quercetin is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, but the mechanism by which it works against cancer was not known until now. The researchers at IISc studied the anti-tumour potential of a potential drug on mice models of cancer and cells in culture.

“The anti-cancerous potential of quercetin was very high in comparison to other naturally occurring compound like ellagic acid. Treatment with quercetin showed a significant reduction in the size of tumours and five-fold increase in the life span of Swiss albino mice having cancer,” the study found.

Quercetin does so by inducing apoptosis, a process by which cells commit suicide, in a controlled manner in high stress conditions. It halts the multiplication of cancerous cells by blocking the process of cell division. “It also interacts with the genetic material in organisms. Binding to DNA is one of the mechanisms by which anti-cancerous drugs cause DNA damage, which eventually leads to destruction of cancerous cells,” the study said.

Quercetin was found to be useful even in killing the highly aggressive leukemia (or blood cancer) cell line K562, which is typically resistant to most anti-cancerous drugs. And in killing the cancerous cells, the compound was not seen leaving any significant adverse effects on non-cancerous cells of the body.

In another independent study, IISc also found that the extract of the plant, Vernonia Condensata, too aids in cancer treatment. In this study, the plant extract prevented the growth of cancerous cells and increased the survival chances (of the mice used in experiments) by 60%.

The extract used in the treatment of cancer, caused an imbalance in mitochondrial membrane potential, eventually leading to the destruction of cancerous cells.

“With these findings, there is finally some hope to treat cancers through natural products and in the most safe way. The chemicals used for cancer therapy suffer from significant side effects. Quercetin is a good chemotherapeutic agent and it might show even better effect when used in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents,” said Raghavan.

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