Mistletoe as treatment for colon cancer?

November 30, 2012
Health Sciences student Zahra Lotfollahi with a sample of mistletoe extract at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. Credit: The University of Adelaide

(Medical Xpress)—Mistletoe has become an important symbol of Christmas but it also has the potential to play a vital role as an alternative therapy for Australian sufferers of colon cancer.

At the University of Adelaide, scientists are interested in how the extract of mistletoe could either assist or act as an alternative to chemotherapy as a treatment for .

Colon cancer is the second greatest cause of in the Western world. Mistletoe extract is already authorised for use by sufferers of colon cancer in Europe, but not in Australia due to a lack of scientific testing.

For her Honours research project recently completed at the University of Adelaide, Health Sciences student Zahra Lotfollahi compared the effectiveness of three different types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells. She also compared the impact of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on healthy .

In her laboratory studies, she found that one of the mistletoe extracts - from a species known as Fraxini (which grows on ) - was highly effective against colon cancer cells and was gentler on healthy intestinal cells compared with chemotherapy.

Significantly, Fraxini extract was found to be more potent against cancer cells than the chemotherapy drug.

"This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can result in severe side-effects for the patient, such as oral mucositis (ulcers in the mouth) and hair loss," Ms Lotfollahi says.

"Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of . At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells.

"Of the three extracts tested, and compared with chemotherapy, Fraxini was the only one that showed a reduced impact on healthy intestinal cells. This might mean that Fraxini is a potential candidate for increased toxicity against cancer, while also reducing potential side effects. However, more laboratory testing is needed to further validate this work," Ms Lotfollahi says.

"Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable overseas for many years, but it's important for us to understand the science behind it," says one of Ms Lotfollahi's supervisors, the University of Adelaide's Professor Gordon Howarth, a Cancer Council Senior Research Fellow.

"Although mistletoe grown on the ash tree was the most effective of the three extracts tested, there is a possibility that mistletoe grown on other, as yet untested, trees or plants could be even more effective.

"This is just the first important step in what we hope will lead to further research, and eventually clinical trials, of mistletoe extract in Australia," Professor Howarth says.

Explore further: Cranberries may improve chemotherapy for ovarian cancer

Related Stories

Cranberries may improve chemotherapy for ovarian cancer

August 21, 2007

Compounds in cranberries may help improve the effectiveness of platinum drugs that are used in chemotherapy to fight ovarian cancer, researchers have found in a laboratory study that will be reported today at the 234th national ...

Heart drugs show promise for fighting colon cancer

December 16, 2009

Scientists in Sweden are reporting for the first time that a group of drugs used to treat heart failure shows promise for fighting colon cancer. The study is in ACS' Journal of Natural Products. Colon cancer is the third ...

New biomarkers for predicting the spread of colon cancer

January 13, 2010

Scientists in China are reporting discovery of two proteins present in the blood, of people with colon cancer that may serve as the potential biomarkers for accurately predicting whether the disease will spread. Their study ...

Recommended for you

Oxygen can impair cancer immunotherapy in mice

August 25, 2016

Researchers have identified a mechanism in mice by which anticancer immune responses are inhibited within the lungs, a common site of metastasis for many cancers. This mechanism involves oxygen inhibition of the anticancer ...

Stem cell propagation fuels cancer risk in different organs

August 25, 2016

The idea that stem cells - special cells that divide to repair and generate tissues - might be the major determinant of cancer risk has provoked great debate in the scientific community. Some researchers maintain that environmental ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.