Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
It could be hailed as a different kind of Southern comfort.
A compound found in magnolias could be used to combat some types of head and neck cancer, experts from the Veterans Affairs Research Communications and the University of Alabama at Birmingham report in research currently available online in the journal Oncotarget.
In their study, the authors focused on squamous cell head and neck cancers, which affect those who abuse tobacco and alcohol products and represent an estimated 75 percent of all head and neck cancers. These cancers have just a 50 percent survival rate, the researchers noted, and are said to be responsible for killing as many as 20,000 Americans each year.
However, one of the primary active compounds found in magnolia extract – a substance known as honokiol (chemical formula C18H18O2) could help combat these diseases. Found in magnolia bark, this compound appears to exploit many of the biochemical pathways that causes tumors of various types to shrink, or even prevent them from growing in the first place.
Honokiol compound targets protein linked to tumors
The VA and UAB research team have now demonstrated for the first time how honokiol works against head and neck cancers. The compound blocks epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein which has previously been linked to nearly all types of head and neck cancers. An over-abundance of EGFR has been identified as a potential target for treatment.
According to the study authors, their laboratory research demonstrated that honokiol binds more strongly with EGFR than does the drug gefitinib (also known as Iressa), which is typically used to treat these types of cancer. They tested the compound on cell lines derived from cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, tongue, and pharynx, and it proved successful in every instance.
They also achieved similar results in tumors that had been implanted in mice, prompting senior author Dr. Santosh K. Katiyar and his colleagues to write that honokiol “appears to be an attractive bioactive small molecule phytochemical for the management of head and neck cancer which can be used either alone or in combination with other available therapeutic drugs.”
Previously, Dr. Katiyar has published research on other natural substances found to be effective against cancerous tumors, including skin cancer. One recent study reportedly looked at green tea compounds, while another examined the effectiveness of grape seed proanthocyanidins.
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