The use of standardized plant extracts for the treatment of cancer

Professional info

- A plant extract is a complex mixture of different compounds that can act simultaneously on different targets, making it an interesting "cocktail" of natural origin.  Most substances are present in low concentrations potentially resulting in less toxicity.
- Three different plant extracts were investigated in this project for their possible use in the treatment of cancer:
           1) Chelidonium majus
           2) Steganotaenia araliacea
           3) Gloriosa superba
- The Gloriosa superba extract showed promising preclinical activity in a pancreatic mouse model. A patent is filed based on the results obtained in the experiments.

 

Location: University of Antwerp (Belgium)
Collaboration: Prof. Pieters, Prof. Apers & Prof. Lardon

 

Why did we choose this project?

Plants are an interesting source for the development of medication, this because they contain a lot of constituents which can hardly or not be developed artificially in laboratories.  Therefore, a lot of these interesting substances are being extracted directly from the plants in order to develop drugs. The problem with these plant compounds lies with them attacking benign as well as malignant cells, causing normal cells and tissue to get damaged, giving rise to severe side effects. Because the balance between the effective dose and the toxic dose is too small, the dose of the medicine cannot be increased to kill remaining tumor cells. Indeed, an increase of the dose would imply an increase in toxicity. 
The main advantages of plant extracts are:
- Lower toxicity without losing efficacy: this is because there are many active compounds present at low concentration making it an interesting “cocktail” of natural origin.
- Cheaper than most recent anticancer drugs.

 

The aim

Therefore, three different plant extracts were investigated in this project for their possible use in the treatment of cancer.
1) Chelidonium majus
2) Steganotaenia araliacea
3) Gloriosa superba

How did we approach this project?

The research involved:
1. phytochemical characterization, i.e. isolation and identification of the active constituents in the plant
2. analysis of the compounds in order to produce standardized plant extracts with reproducible quality
3. pre-clinical studies to determine the efficacy and toxicity of the plant extracts and their components (in vitro and in vivo)

The project is supported by an IWT Doctoral Scholarship, a grant of the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology.

What did we find?

1) After promising in vitro activity on pancreatic and colon cancer cells, the Chelidonium majus extract was tested in a pancreatic mouse model. The extract demonstrated an effect on the amount of metastases compared to the control, but there was no effect on the primary tumor.
2) A new compound was found in the extract of Steganotaenia araliacea, what brings further knowledge about this African plant. The in vitro activity of this extract was the lowest of the three extracts and therefore, this extract was not further investigated in a mouse model.
3) The Gloriosa superba extract showed promising preclinical activity in a pancreatic mouse model. A patent is filed based on the results obtained in the experiments. 

Based on what we learnt, what is the message we want to give to the public?

In vitro activity against cancer cells doesn’t necessarily translate into in vivo activity. It is important to realize that efficacy on cancer cells should not be considered as evidence for use in humans.
When obtaining promising in vivo results, it is important to develop a strategy for further research in clinical trials. It became clear that a commercial partner is needed to develop a new product for cancer. It is crucial that at first strong preclinical data are generated in order to convince potential commercial partners.