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Is the Cure for Cancer to Be Found in the British Autumn Crocus?

Posted on the 12 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost


Is the cure for cancer to be found in the British Autumn crocus?

British Autumn crocus. Photo credit: Sasastro

A drug harnessing the power of the British Autumn crocus may revolutionise the way cancer is treated. Researchers at Bradford University have modified the potent chemical the plant contains, known as colchicine, so that its toxic effects are localised to the site of cancerous tumours. The media have seized on the idea of a potential smart-bomb in the fight against the disease.


If not a magic-bullet, the treatment promises to be much more than a passing sound-bite: experiments conducted on mice implanted with human cancer cells revealed impressive results. All the animals responded to the treatment, and half were cured entirely. Already tested on breast, lung, colon, prostate and sarcoma, the drug could be effective “against pretty much all types of tumour”, according to Professor Launce Patterson. Patterson will present his work today at the British Science Festival in Bradford.

The team at Bradford University’s Institute for Cancer Therapies (ICT) rendered the normally poisonous colchicine by ‘capping’ it with a string of specific amino acids. In this state, the chemical can travel around the body without causing damage. When the drug reaches a tumour, however, the cap is removed and the colchicine starts to attack cancerous cells. This technique means that the side-effects associated with cancer therapy – hair loss, nausea, and the suppression of the immune system – could potentially be avoided. Phase one clinical trials on humans could start within 18 months.

  • Needs time to grow. Henry Scowcroft of Cancer Research UK welcomed the news but struck a note of caution: “this is exciting but very early work that hasn’t been tested in humans yet.” On Twitter, self-professed “meditation enthusiast” JohnMunroe worried that in all the furore, babies might be facing quick exits from their metaphorical baths: “Let’s be sure what we are throwing out with the bathwater, bioeditors”, he warned.

Do the big pharmaceutical firms actually want us to be well?

  • Bloomin’ Hell. The denizens of The Daily Mail comment board have had their say. Kevin from Newcastle expressed his frustration with “ ‘coulds’, ‘maybes’ and ‘mights’ announcing some astounding wonderful new thing … If we believed everything she [science journalist Fiona MacRae] tells us, we would already be living now in some wonderful utopia”. Nick from London’s ire was directed not at the media, but at the structure of pharmaceutical research: “Anything found that cures cancer gets blocked by big pharma. You’ll never hear of this again. Healthy people just don’t make money. Neither do dead people. What they need is people who are alive but constantly ill.”


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