In a new study, researchers found a compound derived from the thunder god vine—an herb used in China to treat joint pain, swelling and fever—that is able to kill cancer cells and may improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.
The research was conducted by a team at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
The medicinal plant’s key ingredient, triptolide, is the basis of a water-soluble prodrug called Minnelide.
It appears to attack pancreatic cancer cells and the cocoon of stroma surrounding the tumor that shields it from the body’s immune system.
The team found that the compound’s mechanism of action is the ability of triptolide (Minnelide) to disrupt what is known as super-enhancers, strings of DNA needed to maintain the genetic stability of pancreatic cancer cells and the cancer-associated-fibroblasts that help make up the stroma surrounding cancer.
The team says the cancer cells rely on super-enhancers for their growth and survival.
They found that by disrupting these super-enhancers, triptolide not only attacks the cancer cells, but also the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death.
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., annually killing more than 47,000 Americans.
There is an urgent need to identify and develop treatment strategies that not only target the tumor cells, but can also modulate the stromal cells.
Based on the new findings, using modulating compounds such as triptolide to reprogram super-enhancers may provide means for effective treatment options for pancreas cancer patients.
Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii), also known as léi gōng téng, is native to China, Japan and Korea.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used the vine for more than 2,000 years as a treatment for everything from fever to inflammation and autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The chemical compound triptolide is among the more than 100 bioactive ingredients derived from the thunder god vine.
One author of the study is Dr. Haiyong Han, a Professor in TGen’s Molecular Medicine Division.
The study is published in Oncogenesis.
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