An Ancient Australian Plant Could Help Us In the Fight Against Cancer

The resin of the plant prevents cancer cells from rejecting treatment.
Irmak Bayrakdar

Herbalism has been around for almost as long as the humankind. Back in the past without modern medicine, many communities relied on herbs and plants' healing properties for medicinal purposes.

Now, a new study shows that the leaves of an old shrub from Australia, which was once used as a medicine, are effective against cancer. Originally used by Aboriginal Australians -- Native Australians -- for thousands of years, the plant's resin was previously turned into a paste and used in smoking ceremonies for its healing abilities. 

Preventing cancer cells from rejecting treatment

Miraculously, the plant Eremophila galeata's extract helps stop defensive cancer cells from rejecting cancer treatments such as chemotherapy out of the body, a phenomenon scientifically known as efflux pump.

But isn't there a medicine for efflux pump already? There actually is but drug resistance and side effects are two major issues that need constant solving in the medicine industry. Speaking to Science Alert, Botanist Dan Stærk from the University of Copenhagen explains it simply as "We already have products that inhibit the efflux pump," and adds "but they do not work optimally, because they are not specific enough and can have lots of side effects."

According to the scientists, what makes Eremophila galeata clinically important is its rich sources of flavonoids, a plant compound that helps prevent transporter proteins push the medicine out of the cancer cell. While E. galeata is not the only Eremophila species that contains flavonoids, some other members of this family also have antidiabetic, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory abilities.

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After testing E. galeata in a case study, the team noticed that the resin of the plant actually increased the chemotherapy's effects on colon cancer cells.

Regarding the inspiring test results, botanist Malene Petersen from the University of Copenhagen said  "Interestingly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for example, appear to produce large amounts of almost identical efflux pumps, which has made them extremely good at pumping the antibiotics out of the cells," in an interview with Science Alert.

While the modern medicine that we know today has been rapidly developing for the last three centuries, the medicinal practices of the ancient civilizations continue to shed light on possible solutions to major terminal diseases in the 21st century.


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