Flower power: Tropical bloom offers potential new treatment for pancreatic cancer

December 12, 2019

An international team of scientists led by the UK’s University of Bath have produced drug-like molecules— inspired by a chemical found in a tropical flower—that show promise for treating one of the deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer.

The researchers have created three new molecules similar to Grandifloracin, a chemical found in the tropical plant Uvaria grandiflora, which grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Their study—which was conducted in collaboration with Professor Suresh Awale from the University of Toyama, Japan—demonstrated that all three molecules kill pancreatic cancer cells in a petri dish. Two of these killed the cells more effectively than the original Grandifloracin molecule.

Since pancreatic cancer causes few symptoms, many patients don’t realize they are affected until it has already spread to other organs. Pancreatic cancer is also very difficult to treat, because its tumors resist many anti-cancer drugs,- so these molecules could become a valuable tool in combating the condition.

Although this research is more than five years away from its first human trials, the researchers say these molecules could become a promising new class of drugs for treating pancreatic cancer.

Dr Simon Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry from the University of Bath, said: “Pancreatic cancers are especially aggressive and fast-growing, so the tumors develop faster than the blood vessels can supply nutrients to them. This leads to a lack of nutrients, to an extent that would kill ordinary cells, but the pancreatic cancer cells can survive these ‘austere’ conditions and keep on growing.

The molecules we have identified are so-called ‘anti-austerity’ agents that can remove the ability of the cancer cells to tolerate these starvation conditions, so they will die, whereas ordinary cells with a normal supply of nutrients remain unaffected.”

Dr. Lorenzo Caggiano, Senior Lecturer in the Medicinal Chemistry group at the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, said: “Through evolution, nature has developed a huge variety of active compounds to help it survive and thrive under a wide range of environmental conditions.These so-called natural products are of great interest in the development of new drugs and as such approximately a quarter of all medicines are derived from plants.

“As part of our ongoing research into the development of new treatments for brain cancers based on compounds found in daffodils, the research published in collaboration with Dr. Lewis describes a compound also found in flowering plants that is able to selectively kill pancreatic cancer cells in a new way.

“This exciting approach could potentially lead to a new drug to treat pancreatic cancers that is more effective yet less toxic than current treatments.”

Research contact: @UniofBath

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