Herbal pancreatic cancer result "must be replicated in humans"

In collaboration with the Press Association

A commonly used herbal supplement, triphala, can slow the growth of pancreatic cancer cells implanted into mice, according to research presented at the 2007 American Association for Cancer Research conference.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, found that an extract of triphala, the dried and powdered fruits of three plants, caused pancreatic cancer cells in tumours implanted in mice to die by a process called apoptosis. This process, which is the body's normal method of disposing of damaged or unwanted cells, is often faulty in cancer cells. Dr Alison Ross, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat so it's important to try and find new ways to tackle it.

"But these are early experiments so much more work needs to be done to see if triphala will work in humans," she added. The research team, led by Dr Sanjay Srivastava of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, fed the mice one to two milligrams of triphala for five days a week.

They then compared the size of the tumours to a group of mice who had not been fed triphala.

They also examined the cancer cells for proteins involved in apoptosis.

Mice which had received triphala had increased levels of apoptotic proteins, and their tumours were half the size of tumours in untreated mice. Dr Srivastava commented: "Triphala triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumours without causing any toxic side-effects. "With follow-up studies, we hope to demonstrate its potential use as a novel agent for the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer."

Cancer Research UK also pointed out that patients wishing to take herbal supplements alongside conventional therapies should always consult with their doctor before doing so, because of the risk of unwanted side-effects.