Medical

Newly discovered chemical in willow trees kills various cancer cells

Newly discovered chemical in w...
Scientists have discovered a new chemical in willow trees that has shown potential to kill a variety of cancer cells in the lab
Scientists have discovered a new chemical in willow trees that has shown potential to kill a variety of cancer cells in the lab
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Scientists have discovered a new chemical in willow trees that has shown potential to kill a variety of cancer cells in the lab
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Scientists have discovered a new chemical in willow trees that has shown potential to kill a variety of cancer cells in the lab

The natural world has proven a generous source of drugs for the human race, and the latest scientific discovery in this area takes this concept right back to its roots. After giving the world aspirin more than a century ago, the bark of the willow tree has again been tapped for its life-saving potential, this time offering up a novel chemical that has proven capable of killing various cancer cells in the lab.

The use of willow leaves and bark for the purposes of pain relief stretches back thousands of years, with ancient Egyptians stripping the trees to ease their aching joints. In 1897, a synthetic version of the active ingredient, salicylic acid, was produced and later marketed under the name aspirin, which went on to become one of the most commonly used drugs around the world.

Scientists from the UK’s Rothamsted Research and cancer biologists from the University of Kent have now discovered another chemical in willow trees with plenty of potential. Called miyabeacin, the researchers are particularly excited about how it might prove useful in treating cancers resistant to existing drugs.

“With resistance to treatment being a significant issue in cancers such as neuroblastoma, new drugs with novel modes of action are required and miyabeacin perhaps offers a new opportunity in this respect,” says Rothamsted’s Professor Mike Beale, study co-author. “Structurally, it contains two salicin groups that give it a potential ‘double dose’ of anti-inflammatory and anti-blood clotting ability that we associate with aspirin. However, our results reporting the activity of miyabeacin against a number of cancer cell lines, including cell lines with acquired drug resistance, adds further evidence for the multi-faceted pharmacology of willow.”

This optimism follows experiments where the researchers pitted miyabeacin against several breast, throat and ovarian cancer cell lines in the lab, where it was found to kill them off. What has the scientists particularly excited, however, was that it produced similar results against neuroblastoma, the most common form of solid tumor in children under five, and one with a survival rate of below 50 percent.

While the scientists are excited about these early results, there is a long path ahead to translate them into a cancer drug for clinical use. The next steps for the team involve coming up with ways to produce large amounts of miyabeacin from willow so that more testing can be conducted.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Rothamsted Research

8 comments
Worzel
The sooner the better!
FB36
New side-benefits (instead of new side-effects!) of Aspirin still are keep getting found, after more than a century! & that is the difference between natural drugs & artificial ones!
Aross
As a child in the 40s and early 50s we were treated with a tea made of dried willow bark for headaches and pains with no adverse effects. We were treated with a tea made from quinine bark for fevers again with no adverse effects. Maybe it would be better to use the natural ingredient rather than the synthetic versions which to my mind are missing the natural properties that probably buffer or prevent the adverse effects of the active ingredients.
Signguy
FB36 & Aross: I agree the natural is better because it is able to assimilate better, but drug companies copy the natural to make money; their agenda (as is doctors/hospitals) is Treating, not Healing disease. As they say; Follow the money.
Kpar
Aross, you have a point. Modern pharmaceutical companies cannot patent a "natural substance", so they spend a great deal of time, money and effort to find the "active ingredient", so it can be synthesized and marketed. In many cases, it is a combination of other substances within the "natural" source, so isolating the main ingredient does not always produce results. This is not evil, just the way the market works. They have had a great deal of success with the traditional process, but it is not the "be all and end all".
Nala
Sure I totally condemn the brutally capitalist agenda behind most if not all pharmaceutical companies but we can't as a species only rely on dried leaves from one kind of tree that may or may not survive in the future. Overpopulation, climate change, prospects of space travel and leaving earth all together push for breaking down and synthesizing all the healing ingredients found in nature. Pharmaceutical companies behave so grossly inhuman but I try to remember the hidden why behind them.
JeffK
It must be awfully easy to sit on your ideological high horse and heap abuse on pharmaceutical companies if your health is good. Thirty-nine years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis two weeks after my thirtieth birthday. Were it not for modern medical devices such as artificial hips and knees as well as advanced prescription medications I would be wheelchair bound, drugged into semi-consciousness and a drag on my family. Instead, I am able to contribute to my community by volunteering, enjoy a comfortable life with my wife of forty-three years and see our grandchildren grow up. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, capitalism is a terrible system, it's just the best one humans have developed.
Expanded Viewpoint
What is that hidden "why", Nala? Please do tell us what it is so we can address it and handle it! That would go such a long way to solving lots of world wide problems!