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Plant-based Chemicals Could Reverse Terminal Cancer

Combinations of a significant number of non-toxic chemicals, many of which can be found in plants and foods, may help treat advanced and untreatable cancers, according to new research from a global taskforce of 180 scientists.

Prof Lynn Ferguson of The University of Auckland, whose team focused on genomic instability, says the research published in Seminars in Cancer Biology ( suggests that non-toxic doses of plant and food chemicals may even address cancer relapse.

“While current therapies have achieved modest successes in some cancers, significant problems remain with most of our approaches to treatment,” Ferguson says. “In particular, many newer targeted therapies are extremely expensive, highly toxic and not effective for rare types of cancer and advanced cancers.

“Even when they appear to work, a significant percentage of patients will experience a relapse after only a few months,” she says. “Typically advanced cancers are untreatable and relapses occur when small sub-populations of mutated cells become resistant to therapy. Doctors who try to address this problem with combinations of therapies find that therapeutic toxicity typically limits their ability to stop many cancers.”

To tackle this problem, the taskforce nominated 74 high-priority molecular targets that could be reached with chemicals to improve patient outcomes. Corresponding low-toxicity chemical approaches were then recommended as potential candidates for a mixture of chemicals that could reach a broad-spectrum of priority targets in most cancer types.

“While some chemicals, such as metformin and dichloroacetate, are older drugs that have potential due to their low toxicity, many of the chemicals that were selected, such as resveratrol in grapes, genistein in soy, curcumin and others, can be extracted from plants and foods,” says lead author Dr Keith Block of the Block Centre for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Illinois.

“Although most have been studied for individual anti-cancer effects, there has been almost no research done on substantial combinations of these chemicals,” he says. “The taskforce teams have emerged believing that carefully designed combinations of non-toxic chemicals can be developed that will maximise our chances of arresting most cancers.”

The taskforce also wanted to produce an approach to therapy that would have the potential to be cheap because many of the latest cancer therapies are deemed unaffordable in low-to-middle income countries. Animal trials are now needed to advance this approach before human trials are possible.