Scientists discover chemistry in flowers that can potentially kill cancer cells

Team of experts from the University of Birmingham have revealed a compound present in a common flowering plant- Feverfew, which holds the source of anti-cancer properties. The scientists extracted the compound from the flowers, and after modifying it, it could be used as an important source in the laboratory to kill chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) cells.

Grown in abundance in the local gardens of the UK, Feverfews are also known to be commonly sold in health food shops as a remedial measure for pains and other aches.

According to sources, the research team at Birmingham was examining the compound parthenolide, identified by scientists as a compound with anti-cancer properties. Although the flower is available commercially, it is relatively expensive, as it has poor ‘drug-like’ properties, which have not been progressed beyond research.

With the help of the new study, researchers have developed a new method that not only produces parthenolide directly, but has also found a way to modify and produce number of compounds which can kill cancer cells by means of in-vitro experiments. It was observed that especially because of the special properties of these compounds, it made for a promising drug to be used in clinics.

The parthenolide compound works by increasing the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells. According to reports, cancer cells are already present with higher levels of unstable molecules and hence the effect of parthenolide allows it to increase the levels to a critical point, thus enabling the cells to die.

“There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide. With expertise from colleagues in the School of Chemistry we’ve been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients,” said Dr Angelo Agathanggelou of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Studies.

The study was published in MedChemComm. For the study, cultivation of plants was undertaken substantially in order to carry out the drug screen.

“After trials on related plant species within the Asteraceae family it soon became apparent that Tanacetum parthenium – feverfew – provided the optimum levels of parthenolide,” explains Lee Hale, Head of Winterbourne Botanic Garden and Abigail Gulliver, Winterbourne’s Horticultural Adviser. Hale is also in charge of cultivation and harvesting of plants.