The results of a pre-clinical study led by researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a Phoenix-based affiliate of California’s City of Hope, suggest how a compound derived from the thunder god vine (photo)--an herb used in China for centuries to treat joint pain, swelling and fever--is able to kill cancer cells and potentially improve clinical outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer. The medicinal plant's key ingredient, triptolide, is the basis of a water-soluble prodrug called Minnelide, which appears to attack pancreatic cancer cells and the cocoon of stroma surrounding the tumor that shields it from the body's immune system. Investigators recently published their study results online on November 9, 2020 in Oncogenesis. The open-access article (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41389-020-00285-9) is titled “Triptolide Targets Super-Enhancer Networks in Pancreatic Cancer Cells and Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts.” The study found that the compound's mechanism of action is the ability of triptolide (Minnelide) to disrupt what are known as super-enhancers, strings of DNA needed to maintain the genetic stability of pancreatic cancer cells and the cancer-associated-fibroblasts that help make up the stroma surrounding the cancer. "The cancer cells rely on super-enhancers for their growth and survival," said Haiyong Han, PhD, a Professor in TGen's Molecular Medicine Division and one of the study's senior authors. "We found that, by disrupting these super-enhancers, triptolide not only attacks the cancer cells, but also the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death.
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