New Anti-Cancer Compound Derived from Ancient Plant

University of Arizona scientists have used a new quick-growing technique to produce a water-soluble form of a plant compound that combats cancer and encourages the survival of healthy cells.Research trials are under way on this sulfate form of withaferin A, which could develop into a new anti-cancer drug.

Scientifically studied since the 1960s, withaferin A reduces tumor mass by preventing the growth of blood vessels that make a tumor malignant. The compound is derived from the roots of a winter cherry plant, the extracts of which have been used for more than 3,000 years in India as a general tonic to build stamina, improve mental concentration, relieve stress and enhance health.

"Finding a water-soluble analog of withaferin A is significant, especially if it turns out to be a clinically useful drug," said Leslie Gunatilaka, director of the UA's Southwest Center for Natural Products Research and Commercialization, or Natural Products Center.

Withania is widely cultivated for commercial use in its native India, and also in the Middle East and in North America. It often is sold under the name ashwagandha as a dietary supplement in the U.S. and Europe.

Although traditionally grown outdoors in soil, the UA team decided to use an entirely nontraditional method - aeroponics - to produce bulk amounts of withaferin A needed for biological evaluation.

In aeroponics, plants are set over enclosed chambers where their suspended roots are misted with water and nutrients, instead of growing in soil.
Contact name: 
Leslie Gunatilaka, Office of Arid Lands Studies
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Released date: 
Jul 5 2010