Breast cancer treatment involves procedures that are either invasive (like surgery) or prone to severe side-effects (like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone-replacement). On the cards is a herbal remedy that has been used for ages in the villages of Pakistan.
The herb Fagonia cretica, also called ‘Mantle of the Virgin’, has been used as a local medicine in a herbal tea called ‘Dramah’ to treat breast cancer. It has shown no obvious side-effects like vomiting or diarrhoea. However, its mechanisms of action haven’t been known. Neither have its potential side-effects and efficacy of treatment been quantified. A group of British researchers have tried to determine these factors which could help determine the role of this ‘miracle drug’ in cancer treatment. The results have been encouraging.
What Effects Does Fagonia Have on Cancer Cells?
Firstly, the researchers tried to determine the the actions of this plant on both normal and breast cancer cells. They found that exposing cells to the plant extract over 72 hours reduced cell viability of breast cancer cells by a whopping 67%, whereas the viability of normal cells did reduce, but by a considerably smaller 20%. This extract induces tumourous cells to kill themselves, cellular suicide, if you will.
How Does this Herb Work?
They then tried to identify the mechanism by which the proteins in this plant extract work. P53 is a cancer protein that suppresses tumours; it is aptly called a ‘tumor suppressor’ protein. A defective ‘mutated’ version of the protein is usually found in cancer cells, leading to uncontrolled tumour progression. To see if the Fagonia extract works on breast cancer cells via increasing the activity of this protein alone, the research team exposed cells in which the p53 protein was not allowed to act to the Fagonia extract. They found that the plant extract still managed to reduce tumours, although by a smaller extent. This means that the Fagonia plant has other means by which it recognizes and acts on breast cancer cells.
They then tested if the Fagonia extract works by acting on another tumour suppressor protein called FOXO3. In a similar experiment as above, they took cells in which FOXO3 could not act, and found that the ability of the extract to kill tumours was significantly reduced, and in some cancer cell lines, even completely gone.
The anti-cancer mechanisms of this plant allow researchers to design drugs that use similar mechanisms. The actual part of the plant that is responsible for this action remains to be discovered. You can read about this research here.