Can Asians get skin cancer

Asian medicinal plant against skin cancer?

Active ingredient from nature: The ingredient of an Asian solder plant could help against black skin cancer. As experiments reveal, this active ingredient destroys tumor cells, for example by driving them into programmed cell death. The substance has already proven itself in initial animal experiments. According to the researchers, it could therefore be a suitable starting point for the development of new drugs.

Black skin cancer is one of the most dangerous tumor diseases. Detected in time, the malignant skin lesion can be treated very well. But as soon as the tumor has metastasized, it spreads aggressively and the chances of recovery decrease rapidly. In order to improve the prognosis for melanoma patients with metastases as well, doctors are now looking for alternative treatment options - including in nature's “pharmacy”.

Search for active ingredients in the plant kingdom

In this context, Nadine Kretschmer from the University of Graz and her colleagues have devoted themselves to medicinal plants known from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). "The starting point was the question of which plants are used in TCM as remedies for cancer-like diseases and whether an active ingredient against cancer can be obtained from them," explains Kretschmer.

The scientists first tested 253 extracts from 76 medicinal plants on different cancer cells. An active ingredient from the Asian solder plant Onosma paniculata proved to be a particularly promising candidate: the substance beta-beta-dimethylacrylshikonin.

Also effective in animal experiments

Further research revealed that this active ingredient actually has a destructive effect on cells of malignant melanomas. The solder root extract can apparently disrupt the cell cycle and promote processes such as apoptosis and autophagy. The cells are driven to suicide or begin to break down pathological cell components on their own.

In cell experiments, the substance from Onosma paniculata therefore appeared to have potential for fighting skin cancer. But would this also be confirmed in animal experiments? Initial experiments at least suggest this, as Kretschmer and her colleagues report. For their in-vivo tests, the researchers injected the agent into nude mice suffering from skin cancer directly into their tumors. They observed that the cancer cells gradually died off. In addition, the treatment did not appear to have any side effects.

Approach for a new drug?

On the basis of these preliminary results, the team of scientists finally dared to take a further step: "We tried to modify the substance to see whether we could improve its effectiveness," reports Kretschmer. A shikonin derivative that was created in the process could, in their opinion, be suitable for developing a drug against black skin cancer. But until then it is still a long way. “Larger studies are necessary for this. And the type of administration is still open, ”emphasizes the researcher.

While the isolated active ingredient from the solder plant is active against tumors, this is not necessarily the case with traditional applications with the plant. As the scientists explain, the plants in TCM are usually prepared as tea and boiled twice over a long period of time.

"If we cook our plants in this way, we don't see the anti-tumor effects in cell culture experiments," says Kretschmer. “However, in TCM there is also a method of preparation using oil, which is then applied to the affected areas of the skin. It contains the effective shikonins in higher concentrations. "(Molecules, 2018; doi: 10.3390 / molecules23112823)

Source: FWF - The Science Fund

18th September 2019

- Daniela Albat