A new study has found that a natural extract from daffodils has properties that can kill cancer. It lays out the molecular mechanism by which the extract could cause cancer cell death.
The new research tested the anti-cancer properties of a natural daffodil extract called hemanthamine.
Hemanthamine (HAE) is a natural alkaloid that is, a naturally occurring chemical found in plants that has a strong physiological effect in humans.
The research was led by Denis Lafontaine, of the Faculty of Sciences at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Belgium.
The team explained that daffodil extract has been helpful in the fight against cancer; former in vitro studies which were carried out both by Lafontaine’s team as well as other researchers. The study proved that HAE has anti-cancer effects that overcome the cells’ resistance to apoptosis, or cell death.
In this new research, the scientists from the RNA Molecular Biology Laboratory at the Faculty of Sciences and ULB-Cancer Research Center have disclosed that HAE triggers an “antitumoral surveillance pathway.” The results serve to illuminate the mechanism by which the plants in the family known as Amaryllidaceae alkaloids can fight cancer.
Amaryllidaceae plants are among the 20 most widely considered medicinal plant families due to their pharmacologically active compounds.
Starving cancer cells of proteins
As the researchers explain in their study, cancer cells need protein synthesis in order to grow and progress. Cell organelles known as ribosomes are crucial for synthesizing proteins in fact, ribosomes are often described as “micro-machines for making proteins.”
So, ribosomes are, in a way, the Achilles’ heel of cancer cells; the malignant cells are especially sensitive to treatments that stop ribosomes from working properly.
Lafontaine and his team show that HAE prevents protein production by acting on these ribosomes. The extract appears to block the production of ribosomes in the nucleolus.
The nucleolar stress thus induced triggers a chain reaction that culminates with the elimination of cancer cells: it activates a tumoral surveillance pathway, which stabilizes a protein called p53, which then leads to cell death.
Future Relevance of the Discovery
This is the first time that a research has offered a molecular explanation for the anti-cancer properties of daffodils, which have been used in traditional medicine since the times of Ancient Greece.
The researchers say that the biological activities of Amaryllidaceae alkaloids are not restricted to anticancer effects but include potential anticholinesterase, antimalarial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
The strong analgesic morphine as well as quinine which is used against malaria and ephedrine used in the treatment of asthma are all part of the same family as HAE.
The team are now looking to test four Amaryllidaceae alkaloids in an effort to detect the most promising compound that can be developed into a binding form of anti-cancer treatment.