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Cork Tree Could Join Fight against Pancreatic Cancer

cork tree and pancreatic cancer

In the quest to find effective ways to fight pancreatic cancer, some researchers are leaving no stone or tree unturned. That approach has led at least one team of scientists to look at how the Amur cork tree might have a role in that battle.

An estimated 45,220 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed in 2013 and 38,460 individuals died of the disease. This form of cancer has the distinction of being one of the most lethal, with a five-year survival rate of 6 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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However, if the disease is caught early (when it is still in the local stage), the five-year survival rate is about 24 percent. Unfortunately, less than 9 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed at the local stage.

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Amur cork tree and pancreatic cancer
In this new study, which was conducted at UT Health Science Center, a research team had been exploring use of Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) in prostate cancer when they noted some similarities between the two types of cancer.

For example, they exhibit fibrosis, which is the uncontrolled formation of scar tissue around the tumor gland. According to the study’s main investigator, A. Pratap Kumar, professor of urology in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center, once fibrosis occurs, anti-cancer drugs cannot reach the cancer.

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Further investigation revealed that an extract of the cork tree is capable of inhibiting the process that hinders anti-cancer drugs from working. It interfered with the growth of prostate cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, which is natural cell death.

In addition, the proteins that promote fibrosis contribute to inflammation, and use of the extract was shown to reduce that process as well. Overall the authors concluded that use of Amur cork tree extract may play an important role in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

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Amur cork tree extract
For traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, the Amur cork tree is the source of huang bo, which is one of the 50 basic herbs in this medical practice. It is used mainly as a painkiller and to fight meningitis, tuberculosis, and inflammatory conditions.

Recently, the extract has demonstrated some promise in fighting both inflammation and cancer. Besides the new study in pancreatic cancer, Amur cork tree extract was used in a small study of 22 men with prostate cancer. Final results of the study are not yet available, but the men tolerated treatment well.

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In another new study, researchers evaluated use of the dried bark of the tree as an anti-inflammatory agent both in vitro and in mice. Results of both experiments revealed that the extract improved survival rates in the mice and suppressed factors associated with inflammation, including interleukin 6 and interleukin 1 beta, among others.

One of the advantages of Amur cork tree extract is that it is already available in supplement form under the name Nexrutine and has been shown to be safe. Before this natural substance can be used to effective fight pancreatic cancer and similar cancers, however, more research is necessary.

Choi YY et al. The anti-inflammatory potential of Cortex Phellodendron in vivo and in vitro: down-regulation of NO and iNOS through suppression of NF-kB and MAPK activation. International Immunopharmacology 2014 Feb 4; 19(2): 214-20
Gong J et al. Combined targeting of STAT3/NF-kB/COX-2/EP4 for effective management of pancreatic cancer. Clinical Cancer Research 2014 Mar 1; 20(5): 1259-73
UT Health Sciences Center

Image: Wikimedia/Bruce Marlin