With a name as powerful as Thunder God Vine comes great responsibility – and National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded researcher Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff has proven that this medicinal plant is up for the challenge.
Dr. Von Hoff is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on pancreatic cancer.
He and his team began exploring how thunder god vine — an herb used in China for centuries to treat joint pain, swelling, and fever — could be used for cancer patients. The team was overcome with excitement as they discovered a particular compound in this miracle herb can kill cancer cells and potentially improve clinical outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the ninth and tenth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and men, respectively, in the United States. It is the fourth deadliest cancer and is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially in over 40 years. An estimated 57,600 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, with 47,050 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis. With little to no groundbreaking discoveries or treatment, pancreatic cancer is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2030.
The key ingredient of the thunder god vine is called triptolide. Triptolide makes up a molecule called Minnelide, which appears to attack pancreatic cancer cells. It also attacks the tumor’s stroma or outer layer that shields it from the body’s immune system. This allows Minnelide to disrupt ‘super-enhancers,’ strings of DNA that aid the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells. The team found that disrupting these super-enhancers attacks the cancer cells and the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death.
Thunder god vine is commonly found in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. The approaches that make up traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal products, have been the subjects of many clinical studies and scientific reviews. Researchers have concluded that traditional Chinese medicine may help improve quality of life and certain pain conditions, and it is becoming more and more prevalent in western medicine practices. Today, for example, thunder god vine is used for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, psoriasis, fever, amongst other conditions.
This new approach using an old method may provide means for effective treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients, a glimmer of hope that health professionals and patients have long-awaited.
To learn more about groundbreaking research undertaken by NFCR-funded researchers, visit our scientist page.
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