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Cancer-Fighting Compounds of Chinese Medicinal Plant Discovered

Update Date: Apr 12, 2016 07:03 AM EDT

Non-believers of Eastern medicine may well find themselves eating their words soon because a Chinese medicinal plant has been recently discovered to potentially have cancer-fighting powers.

Chinese skullcap or Huang Qin was discovered centuries ago by Chinese physicists. It was used traditionally to treat fever and liver and lung problems. But now a team of scientists have discovered that the plant contains compounds called flavones. Previous laboratory research suggests that these compounds have the potential to kill human cancer cells and stop tumors from growing.

Flavones is found across many species in the plant kingdom. It's what gives some plants their bright blue flowers.

Professor Cathie Martin, of the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom, leads the study, which was published in Science Advances, along with a group of Chinese scientists. The team discovered that the flavones in the Huang Qin plant were missing a hydroxil group which left them quite perplexed as this could not be possible. Science Daily reports that the team thought about the likelihood that the flavones in the plant were possibly made through a recently-evolved biochemical pathway. This pathway was discovered to be the key to producing a large amount of flavones which in turn is the beginning of creating new drugs.

Professor Martin is excited about the possibility that a traditional remedy could one day be used as effective modern medicine. The fact that the plant is found in nature is a big deal in being able to produce so much of its sought-after flavones.

There has also been a rise in interest over traditional remedies in China. This is due to the fact that Tu Youyou's work on artemisinin, a drug derived from the sweet wormwood plant, Artemisia annua, won her the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015. The plant was discovered to have anti-malaria properties.

Dr Alan Worsley of Cancer Research UK commented on the study saying, "This paper answers a very interesting biological question about how these plants are able to make particular molecules, but the study doesn't look at whether the molecules can be used to treat cancer.

"Instead it looks at how this compound is made in nature, which may allow scientists to make more of it in the lab and be able to research its potential uses."

Chinese skullcap is a member of the mint family and its use in treating fevers dates back to the fourth century.

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