Friday, June 7, 2013

Cure for Cancer?

A Cure for Cancer, Some Would Believe

Lei gong teng Thunder God Vine
Lei gong teng, Thunder God Vine

We are going to file this under "Wouldn't it be nice" for now. A study is getting a lot of publicity for supposedly finding a plant that will cure cancer. The plant is lei gong teng, which also is known as Thunder God Vine. If you've never heard of it, you're not alone, but it is a well-known plant in China.

This is a "wonder plant." It is thought to cure or have healing properties for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, chronic hepatitis, chronic nephritis, ankylosing spondylitis, polycystic kidney disease as well as several skin disorders. Not only that, it may provide the long-sought "male contraceptive" to complement The Pill. It has been used as a herbal remedy in China for hundreds of years.

The University of Minnesota has a cancer lab, the Masonic Cancer Center, that did a study of the plant using mice. Extracts from the plant removed tumors from the mice after 40 days, and the tumors remained gone after discontinuation of the treatment. Two compounds, the diterpenoid epoxide triptolide and the quinone triterpene celastrol found in the plant, may have potential as antitumor drugs. Thunder God Vine has numerous other active compounds.

Now, you just know there has to be some problems with this, and sure enough, there are. It's a potent little sucker, perhaps a bit too potent. The plants extracts have all sorts of nasty side effects, including immunosuppression, hair loss, skin rashes, and so on and so forth. The United Kingdom takes a dim view of the drugs produced from the plant, with its Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency publishing a drug safety bulletin in 2011 warning patients not to take drugs from the plant because of those side effects. Even the China State Food and Drug Administration warned people about the plant's toxic properties. The NIH has this to say about the perennial vine, which is native in China, Japan and Korea.

But all hope is not lost. It is believed that careful extraction of the plant's active ingredients could reduce or even eliminate some of portion of the side effects.

Since it will need to be processed, we all know what that means: some big pharmaceutical company will take it over, patent it, and charge oodles of money for each dose. But it's a step in the right direction.

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