For centuries, Chinese practitioners have used herbs to treat all kinds of ailments. New research has shown that one of those herbs, thunder god vine, contains a compound that could have anti-pancreatic cancer properties. Pancreatic cancer kills around 47,000 Americans every year.
For centuries, thunder god vine has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat swelling and pain in the joints, autoimmune diseases, fever, and other health issues. Reporting in the journal Oncogenesis, research showed that a compound called triptolide, which is found in thunder god vine, can kill cancer cells. Triptolide is the basis for a medication called Minnelide.
Minnelide is a water-soluble prodrug (prodrugs are metabolized into their pharmacologically active form after being ingested). Minnelide seems to attack pancreatic cells and the stroma, a protective shield surrounding the cancerous cells that keeps immune cells from attacking.
Triptolide appears to act by disrupting so-called super-enhancers, regions of DNA that help maintain stability in the genomes of cancer cells and their associated fibroblasts, which help create the surrounding stroma.
"The cancer cells rely on super-enhancers for their growth and survival. We found that by disrupting these super-enhancers, triptolide not only attacks the cancer cells but also the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death," said one of the senior study authors, Dr. Haiyong Han, a Professor with the Translational Genomics Research Institute's (TGen) Molecular Medicine Division.
"While triptolide has been known to be a general transcriptional inhibitor and a potent antitumor agent, we are the first to report its role in modulating super-enhancers to regulate the expression of genes, especially cancer-causing genes," added Han.
"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," said study co-author Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen Distinguished Professor. "Based on our findings, using modulating compounds such as triptolide to reprogram super-enhancers may provide means for effective treatment options for pancreas cancer patients."
There are more than 100 bioactive ingredients in thunder god vine, which is native to China, Japan, and Korea.