WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- A centuries-old traditional Chinese medicine may reduce the intestinal side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients by stimulating gut cell division and reducing inflammation, according to a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.
Peonies and a pretty purple flower called skullcap, together with licorice and fruit from a buckthorn tree form Huang Qin Tang, an ancient herbal medicine used in China to treat intestinal disorders such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Recently, a Western-style phase 1/2 trial confirmed that this drug reduces gut damage caused by chemotherapy in colon and rectal cancer patients.
In the new study, Yung-Chi Cheng, along with colleagues from Yale University School of Medicine and a company called PhytoCeutica, Inc. use a carefully prepared, lab formulation of this medicine (called PHY906) and show that the healing effects of this blend of plants arise from its ability to target numerous biological processes in mice.
In the study, the researchers treated cancerous mice with chemotherapy, which shrank tumors but also caused massive destruction in the intestinal lining of the animals. After a few days of treatment with PHY906, the medicine restored the damaged intestinal linings in the mice. The team found that stem cell signaling molecules were present in higher than normal levels in the guts of the treated mice. In addition to replenishing healthy gut cells, the herbal medicine blocked the migration of inflammatory cells to the gut and reduced inflammation -- effects that seem to be caused by multiple actions of PHY906. These results suggest that traditional Chinese medicine may be a model approach for drug developers, who are eagerly testing combinations of agents in the hope that they will work better than any one alone.
"We will continue to refine these processes to better study and understand the sophisticated nature of herbal medicines. Revisiting history may lead us to discovering future medicines," said Cheng.