Australian scientists have successfully synthesized a potent anti-cancer compound found in a woody shrub.
The drug has potential for treatment of colon cancer as it shows activity against several human cancer cells lines and has been shown to shrink tumours in tests.
That the researchers have been able to do synthesize the compound in relatively large quantities is significant, it is pointed out.
For usually the search for anti-cancer compounds in plants often hits a brick wall as only small amounts of the substance can be extracted.
But researchers at the University of Melbourne and collaborators at the Victorian College of Pharmacy and a Melbourne company have achieved the chemical synthesis of two potent, but rare naturally occurring molecules named episilvestrol and silvestrol.
These compounds were originally isolated in small quantities from several species of Aglaia which is a small woody shrub that grows in Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia.
"We are excited by the prospect that we can produce these complex and potent compounds in the laboratory" said Associate Professor Rizzacasa from the University of Melbourne's Bio21 Institute.
The compounds show potent activity against several human cancer cells lines and have been shown to shrink tumour cells in mice.
However, only small amounts of these molecules can be isolated from nature. So chemical synthesis is an option as a source of these compounds for further testing towards a cancer treatment.
"What is even more exciting is that active analogues of these compounds (similar chemicals) can be made from less expensive starting materials" added Associate Professor Mark A. Rizzacasa.
The group used simple starting materials (a simple sugar and a flavone) to synthesize the anti-cancer compounds. In addition, a simplified analogue has also been synthesized which shows potent activity against human colon cancer when assayed by Professor Tony Burgess and his team at the Ludwig Cancer Institute.
The next step will be further testing in vivo (in a living organism). "We are now working to further optimize the synthesis to make it higher yielding and cheaper" states Associate Professor Mark A. Rizzacasa.