Milk thistle extract could help defeat small cell lung cancer

April 7, 2013 | by

Small cell lung cancer is an aggressive type of cancer that readily metastasizes to other organs in the body. The disease can be tough to treat, because the cancer cells often develop resistance to the drugs commonly used against them.

Study shows silibinin, an extract of the milk thistle plant, reverses drug resistance in small-cell lung cancer.

Study shows silibinin, an extract of the milk thistle plant, reverses drug resistance in small cell lung cancer.

Now City of Hope researchers may have found a way to overcome this drug resistance – by using an extract of the milk thistle plant. The plant has long been used as a natural supplement for various conditions, and the latest research opens the door on a powerful new use. Findings from the researchers’ laboratory study were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

Susan Kane, Ph.D., a professor in City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Biology, and David Sadava, Ph.D., a visiting professor from the Claremont Colleges, compared effects of the extract silibinin on two specific cancer cell lines that have shown resistance to three common chemotherapeutics – etoposide, doxorubicin and vincristine.

Various milk thistle extracts have been used as natural supplements to help protect the liver and treat diabetic neuropathy, and recent studies of silibinin have shown it to have some anti-cancer activity against prostate tumors.

In their own laboratory study, Kane and Sadava found that the extract encouraged natural cell death, also known as apoptosis. Additionally, after incubation with silibinin for 96 hours, the cancer cells showed that their drug resistance to the three chemotherapeutics had reversed.

If further research confirms the findings, small cell lung cancer patients who find their tumors no longer responding to chemotherapy could get a second chance against the disease, leading to longer lives for patients. The researchers wrote in their study abstract: “Silibinin, a non-toxic natural product, may be useful in treatment of drug-resistant [small cell lung cancer].”

The researchers are working on further research to develop silibinin as a potential addition to chemotherapy treatment.