WINDSOR, Ont. -- Cancer researchers in Windsor hope to start clinical trials soon to find out if dandelion root extract can kill cancer cells in humans without harming healthy cells.
"We are very excited," said Dr. Siyaram Pandey, a biochemist at the University of Windsor, describing the result of lab tests that so far confirm dandelion-root extract kills cancer cells from leukemia blood samples.
He and oncologist Dr. Caroline Hamm of Windsor Regional Hospital are submitting their application to Health Canada for approval of a stage 1 clinical trial to determine what dose of dandelion-root extract is tolerable and effective in patients with an aggressive form of leukemia known as chronic myelomonocyctic leukemia (CMML) and other cancers, including pancreatic cancer and melanoma.
The research could lead to a cancer treatment that is non-toxic and not derived from synthetic chemicals.
"It triggers a very specific kind of suicide," Pandey said of the process in which the dandelion-root extract causes cancer cells to die.
"The fantastic observation was that it was very selective to cancers."
In other words, the extract only targeted cancer cells and not healthy cells.
This is a contrast to current chemotherapy treatments, which are very toxic and damage normal cells in the process of killing cancerous ones.
Pandey said the same cell-suicide result was observed when the dandelion-root extract was applied to other types of cancers, including bone cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and neuroblastoma.
Research conducted in mice has shown no toxicity either, Pandey said, and it showed the dandelion-root extract had no side-effects.
The team's latest findings were published Friday in the journal PLoS One.
Another paper is to be published next month in the journal of the American Pancreatic Association.
Pandey and Hamm came to this research about three years ago after a handful of Hamm's leukemia patients started drinking dandelion-root tea as an alternative therapy when their chemotherapy stopped working.
A few of those patients went into remission for a few months and then relapsed, Hamm said, but she brought the subject up with Pandey, who has conducted similar research with Hawaiian spider-lily plants.
One of Hamm's patients has been in remission for three years, she said, after a steady intake of dandelion-root tea.
She called the change "remarkable."
"It's not a home run," Hamm said of the tea, but the lab results warrant a clinical trial.
Financial support for the research was scarce, at first because of skepticism.
The Knights of Columbus started by making a grant in 2010. Over the years, this was followed by funding from the Seeds4Hope program and the family of Kevin Couvillon, a young man from Windsor, who died of leukemia in 2010.
The Couvillon family recently made a second gift of $20,000 to support Pandey's research.
"We are so grateful," Pandey said of the generosity of the family, adding the papers published on the topic have been dedicated to Kevin.
Pandey said all the funding for the research is local.
He and his team have patented a system to extract the compound from dandelion roots to make it as concentrated and powerful as possible.
Pandey said he hopes to meet with Health Canada in the next few months to discuss the potential for the clinical trial on humans.
"We're early on," Hamm said, adding if Health Canada does approve the clinical trial, she expects it will go quickly because there will be a lot of interest.
-- Postmedia News