The African tree that could hold a cure for cancer

Scientists are going back to nature in their search for drugs against cancer and have found an African shrub which could offer a new weapon against the disease.

Tests on the drug, derived from the bark of the African bush willow, have shown that it attacks the blood supply to the cancer instead of the cancer cells themselves. A single dose can kill up to 95 per cent of solid tumour cells by starving them of their blood supply.

Dr Dai Chaplin, who led the research at the Cancer Research Campaign's Gray laboratories at Mount Vernon Hospital, Middlesex, said the drug's new type of action could have wide application. "As more than 90 per cent of cancers are solid tumours or lumps, we are very excited about its potential. It opens the door for the development of other drugs working on the same principle. Cancer is a war and we are opening up a new battlefront."

Announcing the findings at a press conference to mark National Cancer Day today, Professor Gordon McVie, director of the campaign, said cancer research had come full circle with a renewed interest in natural compounds after the fashionable swing away from them in the Seventies in favour of designer molecules dreamed up in the laboratory.

Professor Alan McGown of the Paterson Institute at the Christie hospital in Manchester, which is testing the anti-cancer properties of a range of natural compounds, said: "These are big complicated molecules - too big for a chemist to sit down and say `I am going to design that.' They would never have been discovered if we had not looked at nature. The world's greatest chemist of all time is nature."

Dr Chaplin said that most cancer treatments were targeted at killing the cancer cells. One centimetre of tumour can contain hundreds of millions of cells, making it a slow process requiring high doses of toxic drugs.

The new drug, combretastatin, destroys endothelial cells lining the blood vessels which supply the tumour. In laboratory studies, Dr Chaplin found that damaging one of these endothelial cells killed more than 1,000 tumour cells. The findings, published in the US journal, Cancer Research, showed only small doses were required reducing side-effects.

Dr Chaplin said: "The response can be dramatic. In some tumours it shuts down the blood supply in two hours. We may have a new class of drugs here. It is a great start."

Human trials could begin within 18 months. Dr Chaplin admitted there were many tests of safety and efficacy to be done before it could used on patients. The drug acts selectively, for reasons that are not understood, only targeting blood vessels in the tumour leaving others elsewhere in the body unaffected. It is not known, however, whether it will hinder the growth of blood vessels in other parts of the body, for example during wound healing or in the reproductive tract during ovulation and pregnancy.

Dr Chaplin also said that the drug killed the centre of the tumour but left the rim unaffected, and would therefore need to be used in conjunction with conventional radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Combretastatin was discovered 10 years ago by Professor Bob Pettit of the Arizona State University in the US. Professor Pettit, who sits on the Cancer Research Campaign's drug committee, mentioned it to Dr Chaplin who decided to investigate its anti-cancer properties.

Leading article, page 19

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam