It may look like an ordinary plant to the naked eye, but forsteronia refracta, found in the Amazon Rainforest, now serves a very special purpose. UVa medical researchers have discovered that a compound, known as SLO-101, in the South American plant has a significant impact on breast cancer cells.
"What we've been able to do is show that we can completely prevent the growth of breast cancer cells, at least in tissue culture in the lab," said UVa Researcher Deborah Lannigan.
The compound inhibits a cancer-linked protein, called RSK, which is key in controlling the growth of breast cancer cells. Something the two also came across.
"It's very exciting that RSK is now a new target for chemotheraputic agents," said UVa Researcher Jeff Smith.
However, it wasn't easy. It took about five years of work. Researchers tested 6,500 samples of plant extracts until they finally found the right compound. It turns out, it was well worth it.
In tests, the cancer-fighting compound killed human cancer cells within 48 to 72 hours, but did not harm the healthy cells.
Now the scientists are hoping that their work will help in the fight against breast cancer, which according to the American Cancer Society, kills over 40,000 women every year.
"Maybe this is a really important breakthrough for the treatment of cancer," said Lannigan. "That's our hope."
UVa researchers are now evaluating the compound in animals.
They say it may be several years away before clinical human tests can be done.