(NaturalNews) An amazing breakthrough has taken place on the cancer research front, with a possible cure coming from a popular Chinese herb. Researchers out of the U.S., publishing their work in the peer-reviewed journal Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, found that triptolide, an extract from the Chinese herb "thunder god vine" (Tirpterygium wilforii), helps regulate the expression of a key protein involved in cancer cell death, effectively targeting pancreatic cancer cells for elimination using the body's own resources.
The fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence within the conventional model of treatment. Five percent or less of patients diagnosed with it survive more than five years after undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation, according to the data, making it one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of cancer that humans, and men in particular, currently face.
But researchers from the University of Minnesota, through a grant provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), have made an incredible discovery with regards to the T. wilforii herb that could change the way cancer is treated. After administering triptolide onto human pancreatic cancer cells and tissue in a culture, the research team noticed that the extract decreased expression of a protein known as GRP78 that protects cells against death, including pancreatic cancer cells.
GRP78 can protect cancer cells
The normal role of GRP78 is to both produce and aid in the correct folding of proteins, a necessary function that ensures proper cell function. GRP78 is also responsible for transferring proteins, as well as carbohydrates, to other areas including the Golgi apparatus (a type of cell organelle), the plasma membrane, and cell lysosomes.
When something interferes with this normal protein production and transfer process, GRP78 activates another cellular process known as "unfolded protein response," or UPR, that prevents ER stress from damaging and killing healthy cells. In other words, GRP78 acts as a regulator to ensure that cells are both fed and protected.
But during this process, GRP78 can also inadvertently protect cancer cells against apoptosis as well, promoting their survival and spread throughout the body. It is this action of aiding and abetting the enemy, so to speak, that appears to be disengaged when triptolide is introduced into the picture, suggesting that administration of this herbal remedy to humans could effectively induce a cancer-protective effect.
"GRP78, a protein that protects cells from dying, is more abundant in cancer cells and tissue than in normal organs and is thought to play a role in helping pancreatic cancer cells survive and thrive," reads an announcement by the American Physiological Society (APS), the group that published the study.
Triptolide helps calibrate GRP78 to promote cancer cell death
Because GRP78 does not always differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells in its preservation mechanism, it can actually promote the proliferation of cancer cells at the expense of healthy ones. But triptolide helps to remedy this by adjusting the function of UPR, provisioning it to trigger cell death in cancerous cells while preserving healthy ones.
"Our study shows that although increased expression of GRP78 confers a survival advantage to the tumor cells, prolonged exposure to triptolide induces chronic ER stress, which eventually leads to cell death," wrote the authors. "In this context, inhibition of GRP78 by activation of the ER stress pathway by triptolide offers a novel mechanism for inhibiting the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells."