An ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine is making a modern appearance in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It’s called the Thunder God Vine, and it has been used in teas and traditional medicine for a long time. In recent years, it’s been making a name for itself in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered Thunder God Vine’s surprising potency against pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the more serious ailments a person can suffer from. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 80% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses occur after the tumor has spread too far to be completely removed. The average survival rate of such a diagnosis is less than a year, and only 5% of those diagnosed survive for five years after it’s identified. The drug Gemzar is the most effective treatment on the market now, and even it only adds six weeks to a patient’s life.
University of Minnesota professor Ashok Saluja believes that the current options aren’t good enough, and that there needs to be a more powerful retaliation against pancreatic cancer. It is on this note that he and his team began studying alternate ways to fight tumor cells. They found that a certain protein (HSP 70) that aids the growth of pancreatic tumors is in excess in pancreatic cancer cells. Rather than try and destroy the tumors directly, Saluja worked to find something that would inhibit the protein, thus cutting off the tumor’s growth.
He found his answer in a compound derived from the Thunder God Vine. The compound, called Triptolide, halts the development of the protein HSP 70. Without the protein to support their growth, the cancer cells simply disintegrated. In a University of Minnesota article, Saluja comments on the success of the drug in mice:
“This drug is just unbelievably potent in killing tumor cells…You could see that every day you looked at those mice, the tumor was decreasing and decreasing, and then (it was) just gone.”
To be clear, it’s not as if simply drinking tea made from Thunder God Vine will cure cancer. Triptolide isn’t water soluble, so it’s not easy to administer to patients. The achievement of the Saluja lab was making the compound water soluble, in the form of a drug called Minnelide. It’s now in production, and soon it will be tested to see if it has the same drastic effects on humans.
[For another, earlier blog of ours on the medical rediscovery of a potent herbal medicine, read: UCLA Neuroscience Research Isolates Compound to Cure Drunkenness]
Funding for this research was provided by multiple NIH grants, as well as the Katherine and Robert Goodale Foundation and the Hirshberg Foundation. To receive a more in-depth funding report for the University of Minnesota, please click the button below:
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