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Chinese 'Thunder God' plant could crush cancer

Traditional medicine zapped pancreatic cancer in mice

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Scientists believe a plant used for centuries in Chinese medicine may offer a cure for the pancreatic cancer that afflicted Apple talisman Steve Jobs and many others worldwide each year.

Boffins from University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center have been testing Minnelide, a drug extracted from the lei gong ten or ‘thunder god vine’ (Tripterygium wilfordii) and presented their results in the Science Translational Medicine on Thursday.

For those in the know, Minnelide is a water soluble form of triptolide, a diterpenoid.

When tested on mice it was found to be “highly effective in reducing pancreatic tumour growth” and “shows promise as a potent chemotherapeutic agent against pancreatic cancer”, according to the research.

“This drug is just unbelievably potent in killing tumor cells,” Ashok Saluja, vice chairman of research at the centre, told Bloomberg.

“You could see that every day you looked at those mice, the tumour was decreasing and decreasing, and then just gone.”

Although Saluja was quick to point out that this will not necessarily translate into success when used on humans, his team apparently is hoping to start the first of three stages of human clinical trials in six months.

Thunder god vine grows natively in China, Japan and Korea, and has been a mainstay in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. The plant is a favourite for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Scientists have been aware of its benefits for some time – in 2007 it was found to prevent kidney cysts in mice – but the tests with Minnelide are thought to be something of a breakthrough.

Pancreatic cancer kills around 8,000 people in the UK alone each year, with survival rates over five years of less than four per cent – the lowest of the 21 most common cancers in England, according to Cancer Research UK.

Apple co-founder Jobs had a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour, which accounts for only around five per cent of those diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer and is thought to be generally more curable.

However, his death is thought to have been hastened by his initial decision to seek alternative treatments and refusal for nine months to undergo surgery as advised by doctors. ®

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