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New Hope for Brain Cancer? Look No Further than Grandma’s Garden

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Brain Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

You may know daffodils as the first sign of spring, hope and rebirth. It’s because of the trumpet-shaped flowers’ symbolism they have long been used by the Canadian and American cancer societies to promote awareness and help fund research into a cure for all types of cancer.

But in the not-so-distant future, the daffodil could literally be just what the doctor orders for people with biologically aggressive brain cancer.

An international research team has discovered a natural compound in daffodil bulbs, called narciclasine, that offers new hope to brain cancer patients, including gliomas and brain metastases, such as melanoma.

In the lab, the compound markedly reduced cancer cell proliferation and migration, according to research published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology in the November 2010 print edition of The FASEB Journal.

“The discovery doesn't mean that you should eat daisies or daffodils for what ails you, but it does mean that modern medicinal chemistry can pluck new chemicals from stuff that grows in the garden,” says Gerald Weissmann, M.D., the journal’s editor-in-chief.

Dr. Robert Kiss, Ph.D. and co-author of the study from the Institute of Pharmacy's Laboratory of Toxicology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium plans to move the compound to clinical trials within three to four years.

“We hope narciclasine could be given to brain cancer patients in addition to conventional therapies,” he said in a written statement.

If proven safe and effective for humans, this will be a groundbreaking cancer discovery because glioma tumors are traditionally difficult to treat. In addition to its location in highly sensitive brain tissue, this type of tumors is very resistant to traditional cancer therapies. Researchers think the resistance may have something to do with stem cell-like properties found in 97 percent of glioma tumors. Gliomas carry extra copies of the epidermal factor growth receptor (EFGR) gene, which causes rapid growth—often before there are any symptoms—and recurrence rates are high.

The researchers believe that narciclasine selectively inhibits the proliferation of very aggressive cancer cells, while avoiding adverse effects on normal cells.

Narciclasine has been a compound of scientific interest for some time. Previous research found narciclasine promising as an anticancer agent for breast and prostate cancer, scaroma and lymphoid leukemia, but this research is the among the first to examine its effect on gliomas, the most common and aggressive primary brain tumors in humans.

Gliomas are slightly more prevalent in men than women, although no one knows why. Common symptoms include seizure, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness on one side of the body and progressive memory, personality or neurological deficit. Most glioma tumors are thought to appear sporadically without any genetic predisposition. To date, no links have been found between glioblastoma and smoking, diet, cell phones or electromagnetic fields.

The National Cancer Institute has more information on brain cancer.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHer, she pens Nonsmoking Nation, a blog following global tobacco news and events.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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