Almost Extinct Tree Could Provide Powerful Cancer Fighting Properties

Purdue researchers have used the tree to create a potential treatment that will target and inhibit specific cancer causing proteins. Now, they're rushing against extinction to foster the tree's benefits.
Donovan Alexander

There is no denying humanity’s impact on the environment. In the book, “The species that changed everything. The story of humankind’s conquest of nature,” authors Hans K. Stenøien and Reidar Andersen argue that our human-altered warming planet is pushing some plants and animal species towards extinction.

Currently, on a nature reserve in Southeastern China, three Abies beshanzuensis, or Chinese fir trees sit untouched as the last of their kind.

Threatened by the changing climate and human disturbance in the surrounding area, researchers are racing against the extinction-clock to better understand these trees, as they could inspire powerful new ways to treat various cancers.

Last of Their Kind

Originally Chinese chemists were drawn to Abies beshanzuensis for the treatment of diabetes and obesity. Though chemists were able to collect samples from the tree without disturbing them in their habitat, Chinese fir trees proved to not be an effective treatment towards these diseases. However, researchers did not come out completely empty handed.

Through examining and modifying some of the molecules of the Abies beshanzuensis, organic chemist Mingji Dai and distinguished professor Zhong-Yin Zhang from Purdue University discovered that one of the synthetic analogs was a potent and selective inhibitor of SHP2.


For the uninitiated researchers have looked to SHP2 as a potential therapeutic target for cancer treatments like breast cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, liver cancer, gastric cancer, laryngeal cancer, and oral cancer.

"This is one of the most important anti-cancer targets in the pharmaceutical industry right now, for a wide variety of tumors. A lot of companies are trying to develop drugs that work against SHP2,” says Mingji Dai

Cancer therapies usually target cancer by interfering with specific proteins that assist with the growth and spreading of tumors. The chemist duos new Abies beshanzuensis inspired treatment bonds itself to the SHP2 protein, providing a longer lasting assault on a molecule. This could in fact dramatically improve pharmaceutical treatments of cancer around the world.

Cancer Across the Globe

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and was responsible for approximately 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Statistically, 1 in 6 deaths across the planet is due to cancer.

It will be interesting to see if the chemist duo will continue their research to improve cancer treatments for the millions of people who suffer from the disease around the world.

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