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A substance found in the roots of Indian redwood (commonly known as Rohan), or soymida febrifuga, may help treat severe forms of blood and bone marrow cancers, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, have found.
IISc biochemists, led by Sathees Raghavan, discovered that the compound — methyl angolensate — found in the roots of the Indian redwood tree (which grows in most parts of the country) was very effective in killing blood and bone marrow cancer cells in a lab experiment.
Cancers like leukaemia and lymphoma, triggered by chromosomal aberrations, are life threatening and very difficult to treat unless diagnosed very early. Moreover, the drugs that are currently in use against these tumours are toxic, and don’t spare normal cells.
The plant extract was found to be very effective and had no side effects, the IISc scientists reported recently, online, in the journal FEBS Letters.
This was first study to explore the anti-cancer properties of the compound. Used in many ayurvedic preparations, the extract is known to be effective against malaria, ulcer and inflammation of different body organs.
According to Raghavan, the study is one of the most sophisticated ones to be conducted, as the researchers have been able to pinpoint the exact mechanisms by which it seeks to kill the tumour cells.
Typically, any drug used for treating cancers does this, either by checking the runaway proliferation of cancer cells, thus helping the body’s immunity effectively counter the problem, or making tumour cells commit suicide, a process called apoptosis.
“We were surprised that methyl angolensate does both,” Raghavan told KnowHow. While they haven’t studied the inhibition of tumour cell proliferation yet, they have worked out in detail the cellular mechanisms that the compound employs to induce the suicide of the cancerous cells.
Raghavan said it was too early to talk about the effectiveness of the compound in humans. They have to conduct a number of tests to confirm the safety and effectiveness. The IISc scientists have proceeded in this direction by launching animal studies using mice.