Researchers at the University of Birmingham have produced a compound with anti-cancer properties directly from feverfew, a common flowering garden plant, according to a report published in the journal MedChemComm.
The team was able to extract the compound from the flowers and modify it so it could be used to kill chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) cells in the laboratory.
The compound the researchers were investigating is called parthenolide and was identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties several years ago. They were able to show a method not only for producingparthenolide directly, but a way of modifying it to produce a number of compounds that killed cancer cells in in vitro experiments. The particular properties of these compounds make them much more promising as drugs that could be used in the clinic.
The parthenolide compound appears to work by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells. Cancer cells already have higher levels of these unstable molecules and so the effect of the parthenolide is to increase levels of these to a critical point, causing the cell to die.
The study’s lead author, Dr Agathanggelou, said: “There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide. With expertise from colleagues in the School of Chemistry we’ve been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients.”