June 3, 2011

Root may stop cancer spread

A compound from roots used in Indian traditional medicine can prevent breast cancer cells from metastasizing in animals, researchers at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute have found.

Withaferin A's anti-metastatic properties could form the basis of drug regimens aimed at preventing cancer recurrence, and researchers are planning further tests with breast cancer and other cancer types. The results are published in the International Journal of Cancer.

"Most patients who die from cancer die because of metastases, not from the primary tumor," says senior author Adam Marcus, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute and a Georgia Cancer Coalition Scholar. "Our objective was not to find a way to kill cells, but instead, prevent them from migrating and invading other tissues."

The first author of the paper is postdoctoral fellow Jose Thaiparambil. Other contributors included Paula Vertino, Donald Harvey, biostatistician Mourad Tighiouart, and veterinary pathologist Anapatricia Garcia.

Withaferin A comes from Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha, whose roots are used in Ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the world's oldest medical systems. It originated in India and has evolved there over thousands of years.

Marcus says his laboratory is now investigating whether Withania somnifera contains other compounds that work together with withaferin A, comparing the root extract against purified withaferin A.

This work was supported by the Godfrey Charitable Trust, the American Cancer Society, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Golfers against Cancer.

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