In a new study from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, researchers found a compound derived from the thunder god vine is able to kill cancer cells and potentially improve clinical outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.
The plant is an herb used in China for centuries to treat joint pain, swelling and fever.
The medicinal plant’s key ingredient, triptolide, is the basis of a water-soluble prodrug called Minnelide, which appears to attack pancreatic cancer cells and the cocoon of stroma surrounding the tumor that shields it from the body’s immune system.
In the study, the team found that the compound can disrupt what are known as super-enhancers, strings of DNA needed to maintain the genetic stability of pancreatic cancer cells.
The cancer cells rely on super-enhancers for their growth and survival.
The team found that by disrupting these super-enhancers triptolide not only attacks the cancer cells, but also the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death.
While triptolide has been known to be a general transcriptional inhibitor and a potent antitumor agent, the researchers are the first to report its role in modulating super-enhancers to regulate the expression of genes, especially cancer-causing genes.
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 findings, using modulating compounds such as triptolide to reprogram super-enhancers may provide means for effective treatment options for pancreas cancer patients, the team says.
Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii), also known as léi g?ng 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.
For more information about pancreatic cancer treatment and prevention, please see recent studies about this new therapy may trigger self-destruction of pancreatic cancer and results showing a cause of the most common pancreatic cancer.
The study is published in Oncogenesis. One author of the study is Dr. Haiyong Han.
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