Berry extract added to chemo kills pancreatic cancer

"We found that lower doses of the conventional drug were needed, suggesting either that the compounds work together synergistically, or that the (chokeberry) extract exerts a "supra-additive” effect," says says Bashir A. Lwaleed. "This could change the way we deal with hard to treat cancers in the future." (Credit: Nesson Marshall/Flickr)

A chemotherapy drug was more effective at killing pancreatic cancer cells when an extract from chokeberries was added to the mix.

Chokeberry is a wild berry that grows on the eastern side of North America in wetlands and swamp areas.

The berry is high in vitamins and antioxidants, including various polyphenols—compounds that are believed to mop up the harmful by-products of normal cell activity.

The researchers chose to study the impact of the extract on pancreatic cancer because of its persistently dismal prognosis: less than 5 percent of patients are alive five years after their diagnosis.

No effect on healthy cells

The study used a well-known line of pancreatic cancer cells (AsPC-1) in the laboratory and assessed how well this grew when treated with either the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine or different levels of commercially available chokeberry extract alone, and when treated with a combination of gemcitabine and chokeberry extract.

The analysis indicated that 48 hours of chokeberry extract treatment of pancreatic cancer cells induced cell death at 1 ug/ml. The researchers reported their results in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

The toxicity of chokeberry extract on normal blood vessel lining cells was tested and found to have no effects up to the highest levels used (50 ug/ml), suggesting that the cell death effect is happening in a way other than through preventing new blood vessel formation (anti-angiogenesis), a process that is important in cancer cell growth.

“These are very exciting results. The low doses of the extract greatly boosted the effectiveness of gemcitabine, when the two were combined,” says Bashir A. Lwaleed, a lecturer at the University of Southampton.

Brain cancer, too?

“In addition, we found that lower doses of the conventional drug were needed, suggesting either that the compounds work together synergistically, or that the extract exerts a “supra-additive” effect. This could change the way we deal with hard to treat cancers in the future. ”

More clinical trials are needed to explore the potential of naturally occurring micronutrients in plants, such as those found in chokeberry, Lwaleed says.

Similar experimental studies, indicating that chokeberry extract seems to induce cell death and curb invasiveness in brain cancer, as well as other research, highlighting the potential therapeutic effects of particular polyphenols found in green tea, soya beans, grapes, mulberries, peanuts, and turmeric, show potential, Lwaleed adds.

“The promising results seen are encouraging and suggest that these polyphenols have great therapeutic potential not only for brain tumors but pancreatic cancer as well,” says Harcharan Rooprai of King’s College Hospital.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia, and Have a Chance Inc. funded the study.

Source: University of Southampton