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Natural compound shows promise in colon cancer

A new study has discovered a compound found in the magnolia berry shows potential in the treatment of colon cancer.

The disease, which affects the large intestine, remains a significant global health concern, ranking as the third most common cancer worldwide. With the alarming projection of 3.2 million new cases and 1.6 million deaths per year by 2040 by the World Health Organisation, there is an urgent need for innovative and less toxic therapeutic approaches to treatment. 

A team of scientists from the Universities of Portsmouth, Hong Kong and Eastern Finland found a polyphenol called Schisandrin B (Sch B) exhibits a remarkable anti-tumorigenic effect on colon cancer.

The compound is found in the fruit of Schisandra chinensis, also known as the magnolia or five-flavour berry, which is native to forests of Northern China, the Russian Far East and Korea. Wild varieties are also found in Japan and it is often used in plant-based foods and drinks.

Existing research has shown Sch B has anti-cancer properties in liver, breast, ovarian, gastric, and gall bladder cancers. Until now, the mechanism underlying the anti-tumorigenic effect of Sch B in colon cancer has not been fully understood.

Conventional cancer therapies often have various side effects and organ toxicities, resulting in a lower quality of life for patients, and the economic burden of cancer is significant. 

“There is an urgent need to develop new approaches to cancer therapy that could lead to improved clinical outcomes. Our data shows an entirely new approach which may offer a safe and cost-effective treatment option,” said senior author of the study, Dr Murphy Wan from the University of Portsmouth.

The study, published in ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, employed a combination of Raman spectroscopy, RNA sequencing, molecular and biological experiments. 

It found Sch B had the following benefits:

  • It is a natural polyphenol form with high tumour-killing capacity and high degree of specificity
  • It treats different stages of colon cancers and is especially more effective for the late stage of colon cancers
  • It has shown very low toxicity against normal cells compared to current available drugs

Co-Lead author, Professor Hani El-Nezami from the University of Eastern Finland added: “Polyphenols have shown significant efficacy in preventing cancer development and exhibiting anti-cancer properties. They have potent antioxidative properties, which help prevent cancer cells from spreading.

“Our findings also support the hypothesis that Sch B has a similar therapeutic effect against colon cancer as it does with other cancer types.

“By unraveling the molecular mechanism underlying its anti-tumorigenic effect, we have laid the foundation for further exploration of the compound as a potential treatment option.”

The team recommends that the compound should now be further explored as a novel and more specific approach to colon cancer therapy. They have received a funding of €500,000 from the Research Council of Finland to continue the work.

Research article:

Vanessa Anna Co et al. Schisandrin B Suppresses Colon Cancer Growth by Inducing Cell Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis: Molecular Mechanism and Therapeutic Potential, ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science (2024). DOI: 10.1021/acsptsci.4c00009