Scientists discover a cancer-fighting substance in a common wildflower


2 Aug 20191.36k Views

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Compounds from the feverfew plant, which destroyed chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells, show promise of being developed into drugs, said the University of Birmingham.

Cancer-fighting substances can be extracted and produced from a common daisy-like flower, scientists have shown.

Researchers demonstrated a method for removing and modifying parthenolide from feverfew plants, making compounds that killed cancer cells in laboratory tests.

The compounds, which destroyed chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells, show promise of being developed into drugs, said the University of Birmingham, where the research was carried out.

‘It’s a clear demonstration that parthenolide has the potential to progress from the flowerbed into the clinic’
– PROF JOHN FOSSEY

They appear to kill cancerous cells by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species, an unstable molecule, to a critical point, it added.

Prof John Fossey, from the university’s school of chemistry, said: “This research is important not only because we have shown a way of producing parthenolide that could make it much more accessible to researchers, but also because we’ve been able to improve its ‘drug-like’ properties to kill cancer cells.

“It’s a clear demonstration that parthenolide has the potential to progress from the flowerbed into the clinic.”

Macro close-up of a feverfew flower with a yellow middle and white petals on a black background.

Image: © dreamsky/Stock.adobe.com

Feverfew best for cancer-killing compound

Feverfew, which is sold in health shops as a remedy for migraines and inflammation, is a common flowering plant from the daisy family Asteraceae.

“Feverfew is a short lived perennial plant which we sowed on an annual basis for the trial to ensure continuity of supply. This was necessary as winter weather can result in plant losses,” said Abigail Gulliver, horticultural supervisor at Winterbourne House & Garden. Gulliver and Lee Hale, head of the Winterbourne botanic gardens, oversaw the cultivation and harvesting of the plants.

Hale explained: “After trials on related plant species within the Asteraceae family it soon became apparent that Tanacetum parthenium – feverfew – provided the optimum levels of parthenolide.”

The study is published in the journal MedChemComm.

– PA Media, with additional reporting from Elaine Burke