A substance capable of destroying cancer cells was found in willow leaves

A substance capable of destroying cancer cells was found in willow leaves
A substance capable of destroying cancer cells was found in willow leaves

The genus of woody plants of the willow family is well known as a source of medicinal compounds, the most popular of which is salicin, a crystalline glucoside of salicylic alcohol. The use of willow as a pain reliever began several millennia ago: for example, its bark extract was used for fever, pain and inflammation.

In 1897, the German chemist Felix Hoffmann obtained the first samples of acetylsalicylic acid, which was later marketed as aspirin, a drug that has analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, acetylsalicylic acid is believed to reduce the risk of developing cancer - particularly of the breast and colon.

Now scientists from the Rothamsted Research (UK) and oncologists from the University of Kent have discovered in willow leaves (species S. miyabeana and S. dasyclados) another chemical - a cyclodimeric salicinoid - called myabeacin and has great potential for killing cancer cells, in including those resistant to other drugs. The research is published in Scientific Reports.

“Since resistance to treatment is a serious problem in cancers such as neuroblastoma, new drugs with new modes of action are required, and myabeacin probably offers us this opportunity,” said one of the study leaders, Professor Michael Beale.

He also noted that structurally mabeacin contains two groups of salicin (the active component of aspirin), which give it a "double dose" of action. Thus, although the pharmaceutical activity of salicin has long been well known, the properties of miabeacin may be even higher.

The effect of myabeacin was tested in the laboratory: it turned out that this substance is effective against several cell lines of breast, throat and ovarian cancer. In addition, and most importantly, similar results were obtained for neuroblastoma, the most common form of tumor among children under 15 years of age. In such cases, the chances of a successful outcome are less than 50 percent.

“Perhaps because of the success of aspirin, modern science has largely neglected to evaluate the other salicinoids found in willow. But the medicinal activity of willow plant extracts cannot be explained only by the levels of salicin, which indicates the possibility of the emergence of new biologically active or synergistic metabolites,”the authors of the work note. Their next step, the scientists said, will be to increase the production of myabeacin from the grown willow tree and get more data for further medical testing.

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