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Ancient Chinese medicine used to treat pancreatic and prostate cancers

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Ancient Chinese medicine is being put through its paces for pancreatic cancer. Ironically, pancreatic cancers share some similar development pathways with prostate cancer. The bark of the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) has traveled a centuries-long road with the healing arts. Now it is being put through its paces by science in the fight against pancreatic cancer, with the potential to make inroads against several more perhaps, such as prostate cancer and maybe--more conditions, research could reveal in the future. You can check out the abstract of the study, "Akt/cAMP-Responsive Element Binding Protein/Cyclin D1 Network: A Novel Target for Prostate Cancer Inhibition in Transgenic Adenocarcinoma of Mouse Prostate Model Mediated by Nexrutine, a Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract," published March 3, 2014 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

How the research came to be began at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio ( UT), where researcher A. Pratap Kumar already had been exploring the cork tree extract's promise in treating prostate cancer when his team found that deadly pancreatic cancers share some similar development pathways with prostate tumors.

In a paper published March 3, 2014 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research., the researchers show that the extract blocks those pathways and inhibits the scarring that thwarts anti-cancer drugs. Dr. Jingjing Gong, currently pursuing post-doctoral studies at Yale University, conducted the study as a graduate student in Dr Kumar's laboratory in the Department of Pharmacology.

Fibrotic tissue also refers to uncontrolled scarring around the tumor gland

"Fibrosis is a process of uncontrolled scarring around the tumor gland," explains Dr. Kumar, according to the March 3, 2014 news release, "Ancient Chinese medicine put through its paces for pancreatic cancer." Dr. Kumar is a professor of urology in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center and the study's principal investigator. "Once you have fibrotic tissue, the drugs cannot get into the cancer."

The two pathways, or proteins, that contribute to fibrosis in those tumors also encourage Cox-2, an enzyme that causes inflammation, and the cork tree extract appears to suppress that as well, Dr. Kumar says in the news release. The complex interrelationship of these substances is "the million-dollar question," he explains, and solving that question is one of the next steps in his research.

Liver and kidney tumors also develop fibrosis and the resulting resistance to drugs, he said, and there are no drugs currently targeting that pathway in those cancers

The potential of natural substances to treat and cure disease has great appeal, but the advantage of cork tree extract, available as a dietary supplement in capsule form, is that it already has been established as safe for use in patients. In a promising prostate cancer clinical study of 24 patients that Dr. Kumar helped spearhead, all the patients tolerated the treatment well, he said. Now researchers are analyzing the results, he said, and with more funding they plan to expand the study to a much larger group of patients.

The dietary supplement is marketed as Nexrutine by Next Pharmaceuticals of Salinas, California., which provided a supply of the compound for the studies. For more information on funding, you may wish to check out the site, NIH/National Center for Complementary and Alternate Medicine.

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