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Plant derivative attacks the roots of leukemia

A daisy-like plant known as Feverfew or Bachelor's Button, found in gardens across North America, is the source of an agent that kills human leukemia stem cells like no other single therapy, scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center have discovered. Their investigation is reported in the online edition of the journal, Blood.

It will take months before a useable, pharmaceutical compound can be made from parthenolide, the main component in Feverfew. However, UR stem cell expert Craig T. Jordan, Ph.D., and Monica L. Guzman, Ph.D., lead author on the Blood paper, say their group is collaborating with University of Kentucky chemists, who have identified a water-soluble molecule that has the same properties as parthenolide.

The National Cancer Institute has accepted this work into its rapid access program, which aims to move experimental drugs from the laboratory to human clinical trials as quickly as possible.

"This research is a very important step in setting the stage for future development of a new therapy for leukemia," says Jordan. "We have proof that we can kill leukemia stem cells with this type of agent, and that is good news."

Parthenolide is the first single agent known to act on myeloid leukemia at the stem-cell level, which is significant because current cancer treatments do not strike deep enough to kill mutant cells where the malignancy is born.

In other words, even the most progressive leukemia treatment, a relatively new drug called Gleevec, is effective only to a degree. It does not reach the stem cells, so "you're pulling the weed without getting to the root," Jordan says.

Feverfew has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy to reduce fevers and inflammation, to prevent migraine headaches, and to ease symptoms from arthritis. (A person with leukemia, however, would not be able to take enough of the herbal remedy to halt the disease.)

Investigating s
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Contact: Leslie White
leslie_white@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-1119
University of Rochester Medical Center
23-Feb-2005


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