Mauritian medical herbs possess antitumor properties

Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) scientists teamed up with colleagues from the UK and Mauritius and experimentally demonstrated that extracts of the endemic (i.e. growing only on this island) medicinal herb leaves Acalypha integrifoliaEugenia tinifolia, and Labourdonnaisia glauca stop the proliferation of oesophageal squamous carcinoma cells, ones of the most deadly cancer type worldwide. A related article is published in the Acta Naturae journal.

Researchers found out that the extracts contain natural chemical compounds to inhibit the propagation of cancer cells. Namely, they restrain the G2/M stages transition in malignant tumor cells by activating AMPK signaling pathway. Currently, the search for AMPK activators is an urgent problem in molecular oncology. Having studied the medical herbs of Mauritius, scientists may have accomplished an important step, if not a breakthrough in this direction.

“Mauritius Island is a treasure island of the global biodiversity, and the story of continuing tragedy of human greed, barbarian appetite (remember the Dodo bird from the Alice story, RIP) and neglection of true wonders of the planet designed to save human lives. About one-third of the local plants are used in traditional medicine, but there is still a lack of scientific evidence of their therapeutic potential, while genocide of nature is most evident on such small pieces of lost paradise. To date, only 15 percent of the island’s plant species have been examined for their medicinal properties, which is still better than in many countries. Ethnobotany combined with modern organic chemistry and cell biology is an extremely fruitful interdisciplinary field for scientific research. We hope to proceed working in this direction, thanks to the growing globally Bio2bio* movement supported by the Global Young Academy**. In particular, further study of the active compounds from the leaves extracts of A. integrifolia, E. tinifolia and L. Glauca promises to reveal prototypes of the future drugs to treat oesophageal cancer, and other deadly diseases” – said Alexander Kagansky, the Head of the Center for Genomic and Regenerative Medicine of the School of Biomedicine FEFU, an expert in the field of cancer epigenetics and chromosome biology.

The lead scientist noted that oesophageal cancer is a growing global concern due to the diets and other detrimental side effects of modern lifestyles, technologies, and culture. At the present time, there is not enough effective means of its treatment, while the existing radiotherapy, chemotherapy resection may prolong lives by few months, usually spent in tremendous suffering. The aggressive disease prevents eating, digestion, and come along with a very negative prognosis. Oesophageal squamous carcinoma together with adenocarcinoma represent the sixth main death cause in the global oncological practice. Less than 15 percent of patients survive for five years from the time of diagnosis. On average, people with such diagnoses live less than a year. These types of cancer are treated with broad-spectrum chemo. The drugs are extremely toxic and evoke a number of side effects worsening the patients’ quality of life. At the same time, the efficacy of current chemotherapy for this disease is not very assuring, to say the least.

More than half of all anti-cancer drugs employing today were developed from natural sources. At the same time, most of the world’s population treats cancer by means of thousands of herb species that have been known to traditional medicine for centuries, each of those coming with many different naturally chemistries, evolved for use in nature for millions of years. Taking into the account centuries-old human understanding of nature, modern biomedicine needs to develop new anti-cancer compounds from a wide range of natural sources, such as plants, fungi, bacteria, insects, and marine organisms.

During the study, FEFU scientists in cooperation with foreign colleagues studied in the laboratory carefully isolated and fractionated extracts of five species of Mauritian endemic medicinal plants: Acalypha integrifolia Willd (Euphorbiaceae), Labourdonnaisia glauca Bojer(family Sapotaceae), Dombeya acutangula Cav. subsp. rosea Friedmann (Malvaceae), Gaertnera psychotrioides (DC.) Baker (Rubiaceae), Eugenia tinifolia Lam (Murtaceae). They were tested on the cell lines from two different types of patients’ malignant tumors. Three of the five biologically active substances of these species have shown to contain effective inhibitors of oesophageal cancer cells, stopping their growth and contributing to their death.

Alexander Kagansky emphasized that the future of global medicine depends on the saving of the planet’s biodiversity. He reminded that currently the total number of living species is steadily declining. Bringing on the example of medicinal plants of Mauritius, which he and colleagues took an effort to study, the scientist pointed out that they are devastated at an incredible rate at which species are being erased from existence as a result of human ‘progressive’ activities, such as lumber, energy, and food generation. At the meanwhile, so far these unique species do not grow anywhere else on the planet, a few additional 5-star hotels, bank building, or a golf-course could end up their existence once and for all. Given this, Kagansky became a co-organizer of the Bio2Bio* international consortium thanks to the support of the Global Young Academy and the Interacademy Partnership***. The task of Bio2bio is to protect biodiversity and nature which are sources of valuable biological compounds, as well as to create a database of natural molecules that will provide a basis for drug components elucidation, and for linking traditional medicine systems with each other and modern medicine via integration of other areas such as pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, synthetic and analytic chemistry, immunology, pharmacology, molecular and cell biology, metabolomics, etc.

“Our research should serve the benefit of humanity and show by evidence that on the mechanistic level people depend on natural chemistries, which will reward us by reducing deaths and suffering of ourselves, our parents, and children”, the scientist said.

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