Science

Roadside weed shows potential as a cancer treatment

Weed shows potential in cancer treatment
Roadside weed in treating cancer. Source: Alberto Salguero (via Wikimedia Commons)
A joint study conducted by Professor Devoto and other scientists outline findings of a roadside weed, which has potential to be used in cancer treatments

By Alex Brown | Contributor

A plant biologist from Royal Holloway, University of London has provided a breakthrough in breast cancer treatment in the form of a common roadside weed. Around 8,100 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, which is 22 per day. As current treatment options, such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy having severe and long term side effects, alternative therapies are well received.

Also known as mouse-ear cress or thale cress has been found to stop growth of breast cancer without damaging healthy cells. The miracle weed belongs to the cabbage family and is readily found in Africa, Eurasia and Europe in disturbed habitats. Due to its simple molecular structure, it was quickly dismissed by many scientists, but Professor Alessandra Devoto saw potential in the plant she has nicknamed the ‘Cinderella weed’.

In a joint study with other scientists at the University of Exeter and Brunei University London, Professor Devoto treated the weed with a hormone found in jasmine plants that initiates a stress response. After incubating the treated leaves with breast cancer tissue, she found that the cancerous cells stopped growing, while the healthy cells were unaffected.

This research, published in the New Phytologist, could be used to reduce the side effects caused by invasive chemotherapy, which include nausea and vomiting, suppressed immunity, and hair loss.

Professor Devoto has said,

‘The plant is very much like the Cinderella of the medicinal plant world- no one thought it was so special, but it has shown its true colours.’

She also added,

‘Everyone knows someone who has gone through chemotherapy and the severe side effects it causes. This skinny little weed is a bit of a superhero, it stops the cancer cells but causes no other damage.’

Fourteen years ago, when Professor Devoto first began exploring the potential of the roadside weed, many of her colleagues dismissed her.

 ‘People started looking at me funny when I told them I was investigating the medicinal properties of the plant in 2006’ 

She recounts, 

‘People were sceptical. It has taken me 14 years of perseverance and persistence to achieve these results. I am incredibly proud of our team.’

Dr Harvey and Professor Smirnoff, who worked with Professor Devoto on the project added,

‘Combined with recent progress in metabolic engineering and biotechnology, our approach will also facilitate production and analysis of bioactivities of valuable metabolites from plants on an industrial scale. We are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with Professor Devoto to identify the plant-derived chemicals that interfere with breast cancer cells as well as with other diseases and to progress this research by gathering more funding to benefit society more widely.’ 

This is an interesting area of exploration as it shows potential for developing treatments for diseases such as breast cancer. The study’s findings highlights the need for further research into anti-cancer properties of such plants and its application in disease treatments

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