According to new research, natural compounds present in plants and some vegetables may help treat cancer even more effectively, when used side-by-side with chemotherapy drugs.
A study published in the International Journal of Cancer has found that chlorophyllin-a water-soluble derivative of chlorophyll that makes possible the process of photosynthesis and plant growth from the sun's energy-is, on a dose-by-dose basis, 10 times more potent at causing death of colon cancer cells than the chemotherapeutic drug hydroxyurea.
Experts in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University say that the study has also shown that chlorophyllin kills cancer cells by blocking the same phase of cellular division that hydroxyurea does, but by a different mechanism.
Based on that finding, the researchers suggest that it may be possible to developed to have a synergistic effect with conventional cancer drugs, helping them to work better or require less toxic dosages.
"We conclude that chlorophyllin has the potential to be effective in the clinical setting, when used alone or in combination with currently available cancer therapeutic agents," the researchers wrote in their study report.
They, however, stressed the need for both in laboratory and animal studies, with combinations of chlorophyllin and existing cancer drugs, before it would be appropriate for human trials.
Other studies published in the journals Carcinogenesis and Cancer Prevention Research have explored the role of organic selenium compounds in killing human prostate and colon cancer cells.
During the studies, a form of organic selenium found naturally in garlic and Brazil nuts was converted in cancer cells to metabolites that acted as "HDAC inhibitors" - a promising field of research in which silenced tumor suppressor genes are re-activated, triggering cancer cell death.
Rod Dashwood, professor and director of the Cancer Chemoprotection Program in the Linus Pauling Institute, says that the concept of combining conventional or new cancer drugs with natural compounds, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties, is very promising.
"Most chemotherapeutic approaches to cancer try to target cancer cells specifically and do something that slows or stops their cell growth process. We're now identifying such mechanisms of action for natural compounds, including dietary agents. With further research we may be able to make the two approaches work together to enhance the effectiveness of cancer therapies," Dashwood said.