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Scientists discover natural remedies to fight prostate cancer

Illustration : Purabi Deshpande / Research Matters

 

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men, and the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in developed countries. Characterized by difficulty and pain in urination, increased frequency of urination and blood in urine this condition also results in embarrassments to affected individuals as urine leaks out while coughing or laughing. Although some of these symptoms might be because of an enlarged prostate, it is advised to screen for prostate cancer if one is over 50 years of age. It is estimated that by 2030, 1.7 million new cases and 499,000 fatalities might be because of this deadly disease (World journal of Surgical Oncology, 2012). This year alone, the American Cancer Society has estimated 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer and 26,730 deaths in the United States (www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer).

Prostate gland, a part of the male reproductive system, is a tiny walnut sized gland that performs the task of regulating the passage of semen and urine. The fluid secreted by the prostate gland makes up one third of the semen, protecting and nourishing the sperms. Urine and semen are released from the body through a tube like structure urethra that passes through the prostate gland, which controls this process with the help of numerous muscle fibers. Cancerous growth in such a vital organ can severely impact different physiological processes, besides causing threat to one’s life.

Prostate cancer has an average diagnosis age of 66 years, with 6 out of 10 cases reported in men above the age of 65 years. It is generally treated through surgery, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Although these treatments are successful, the toxic side effects of these procedures are of great concern. Alternative systems of medicines, like ayurveda, promise zero side effects with desired benefits, forcing many to ‘go green’. It is not surprising that some herbal drugs prepared using plant extracts are already being used to treat cancer. In fact, Taxol, a famous chemotherapy agent used for different types of cancers was extracted from the bark of Taxus brevifolia. Now, a research group led by Dr. M.B. Hiremath, Associate Professor at Karnataka University, Dharwad, has recently reported the anti-cancer potential of two medicinal plants Leea indica and Allophylus cobbe, against prostate cancer.

Leea indica, or bandicoot berry (kukur jihwa in Hindi) is a large, evergreen shrub, native to tropical India, Bangladesh, China, Bhutan, and Malaysia. It is used in traditional medicine to relieve headaches, skin problems, body aches and for its antidiabetic, antidiarrheal and antidysenteric properties. Allophylus cobbe, also called Indian allophylus, is a small shrub and commonly seen in the Western Ghats of India and used for treating bone fractures, inflammations, ulcers and wounds as a natural antiseptic. While these plant extracts have already shown cytotoxic properties on colon and breast cancer cells, this study is the first to examine the effects on prostate cancer.

The researchers of the study tested the extracts prepared by treating the leaves of the two plants in water, methanol and ethanol on cancerous cells of the prostate and found them to be very effective. “During the study, we witnessed gradual deterioration of prostate cancer cells by undergoing morphological changes in shape and size and eventually reaching apoptosis (programmed cell death) after 72 hours of exposure to these natural extracts”, shares Dr. Hiremath, talking about the effectiveness of these plant-based extracts. The results of their studies have been recently reported in two journals – Cytotechnology and Integrative Medicine Research.

The researchers have reported the presence of a range of secondary plant metabolites like phenols, alkaloids, flavonoids and saponins in the leaves of the two plants. These metabolites have proven to be strong antioxidants that destroy harmful free radicals present in our body. “Both the plant showed high phenolic content in our study. Interestingly, the antioxidant capacity of the plant extracts studied is also closely equivalent to the standard antioxidant agents like ascorbic acid”, explains Dr. Hiremath about their interesting findings.

The researchers hope to soon test the efficiency of these extracts in humans through clinical trails. “Our findings have shown positive results at in vitro level (outside human body). These outputs have given a positive stand point to take on further studies using living systems to establish the potential of these extracts to be used as therapeutic agent to fight prostate cancer”, signs off Dr. Hiremath, detailing the future of the study.