Using a common British flower, the University of Birmingham have produced a compound with anti-cancer properties.
Researchers modified the common garden plant, feverfew, into a parthenolide compound that kills chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) in a lab. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, a small white blood cell with a single round nucleus. More common in older adults, CLL worsens as it progresses.
Feverfew is commonly grown in the UK and sold in health food stores for migraines as a pain killer.
The plant has been modified to produce a number of compounds that killed cancer in vitro experiments. The compound kills lymphocytic leukaemia by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species in the cell.
Due to the cancer cells already having high levels of this unstable molecule and so the effect of the parthenolide is to increase these levels. Once the levels are raised to an unstable and critical point, the cell will die,
The study was initiated by Dr Angelo Agathanggelou, who investigated new ways to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
Agathanggelou said: “There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide. With expertise from colleagues in the School of Chemistry we’ve been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients.”
Professor John Fossey of the University of Birmingham 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.”