Thiruvananthapuram: The scientists at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) along with the scientists at the Mayo Clinic, have found that the compound Plumbagin from common ‘koduveli’ plants (Plumbago species) has enough anti-cancer properties to be developed into an effective anti-cancer drug. The findings have been published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Cancer.
It has been found that plumbagin cuts off new blood vessels to cancer cells, affecting its growth and proliferation. Besides, it induces ‘apoptosis’ or cell death in cancer cells. These properties make plumbagin a potentially superior drug for cancer control. “What is particularly interesting is that plumbagin does not attack normal cells. To kill a normal cell, you need to use plumbagin at a quantity eight times more than what is used to kill a cancer cell,” explained Priya Srinivas, scientist at the RGCB, who did part of the research work at Mayo Clinic.
Priya studied at least 20 to 25 pure compounds derived from plants before she zeroed in on plumbagin. She was particularly looking for a compound that will be effective in cancer cells with a defective BRCA gene. “In 10 per cent of breast cancer cases, a faulty BRCA gene is handed down the generations. Of the 90 per cent that is left, at least in 40 per cent, BRCA is rendered defective by chemical changes such as methylation. Plumbagin was found to be effective in both the cases,” said Priya.
Another effect of plumbagin noticed by the scientists was its effect on the protein called p53, known as ‘the guardian of the genome’ due to its role in preventing genome mutation. In cancer cells, plumbagin inhibited p53, ultimately leading to cell death. While scientists had described the effect of plumbagin in ovarian cancer cells in the International Journal of Cancer, they had stated that this could potentially be of significant therapeutic benefit in treating wide range of cancers.
They found it to be more effective than certain standard drugs now used in chemotherapy. “We have to go a long way before this could be developed into a drug. We have started with animal trials and once our results are published, the compound can go in for clinical trials,” said Priya.
Apart from Priya, the scientists who authored the paper are Sutapa Sinha, Krishnendu Pal, Ahmed Elkhanany, Shamit Dutta, Ying Cao, Seethalekshmi Iyer, Resham Bhattacharya, Debrabrata Mukhopadhyay from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester; Fergus J Couch and Viji Shridhar from the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Veena Somasundaram of the RGCB.