A naturally-occurring substance found in “Thunder God Vine”, a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, has proven to be remarkably effective in destroying pancreatic cancer tumors in lab mice. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal malignancies to afflict humans and according to the CDC approximately 44,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Only around 20 percent of these patients manage to survive more than a year after diagnosis. The all-stage 5-year survival frequency is even gloomier at under 5 percent. Currently the most effective treatment for pancreatic cancer is Gemzar, introduced by Eli Lilly & Co., but according to Ashok Saluja (left), vice chairman of research at the University of Minnesota's Masonic Cancer Center, “It adds six weeks – it's nothing. There’s definitely a need to discover and develop more strategies for pancreatic cancer.”
Saluja and his team at the MCC just may have found one by testing Thunder God Vine (Tripterygium wilfordii). Researchers had to create a synthetic, water-soluble version of Triptolide, a diterpenoid epoxide produced by the plant in order to conduct their tests. The results were astonishing: laboratory mice with pancreatic cancer treated with the new compound showed no signs of any cancerous tumors 40 days after discontinuing treatment with the Triptolide analog.
“This drug is just unbelievably potent in killing tumor cells,” stated Saluja, who led the study. “You could see that every day you looked at those mice, the tumor was decreasing and decreasing, and then (it was) just gone.”
In traditional Chinese medicine, Thunder God Vine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis so it's purported cancer-fighting efficacy may be a surprise to many. There's a big difference between the Thunder God Vine teas and herbal extracts currently sold online and the synthetic version dubbed Minnelide by the MCC research team, however. Only time – and the results of forthcoming human trials of Minnelide – will tell if Thunder God Vine will be the long hoped for lightning rod against the scourge of pancreatic cancer. (via Bloomberg News, Shanghaiist, and Nature)