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From parsley to Paclitaxel: An effective new way to overcome cancer drug resistance

"Just a tiny dose can produce remarkable healing effects."

Breast cancer is one of the most dreaded diagnoses that a woman can hear from her doctor. Yet, in Hong Kong, one out of every 17 women can expect to contract this ravaging disease during her lifetime.

Chemotherapy can help, but also has the potential to harm healthy cells and cause side effects. What’s more, in some cases it may not prove effective due to drug resistance in cancer cells, one of the most common reasons for cancer treatment failure.

Now, thanks to research led by Profs. Larry Chow and Bill Chan of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, there is hope for patients suffering from breast and other cancers.

The breakthrough they have developed is a new inhibitor derived from a natural nutrient called Apigenin Flavonoid Dimer. Found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, especially parsley, celery and the chamomile used in brewing tea, it can prevent the rejection of drugs by cancer cells and offer better treatment outcomes.

“The inhibitor can specifically bind to the cancer cell’s drug pump and reverse cancer drug resistance,” says Prof. Chow. “More importantly, it is 10 times more potent and three times safer than the best inhibitor available in the market. The inhibitor only targets the tumour and causes no damage to normal tissues. Just a tiny dose can produce remarkable healing effects.”

Another breakthrough with this treatment is the ability of Apigenin Flavonoid Dimer to allow anticancer drugs to be absorbed orally. In addition to reducing the risks associated with intravenous injection, this means less time, inconvenience and discomfort for patients enduring chemotherapy.

The first drug to be developed using the Apigenin Flavonoid Dimer is expected to be Paclitaxel, which is commonly used in treating breast cancer. It will be launched in cooperation with Kinex Pharmaceuticals as part of a licensing agreement with the global oncology specialist company.

In addition to the application of Apigenin Flavonoid Dimer in the treatment of breast cancer, the PolyU team is investigating other flavonoid dimers that can match different cancer drugs.

For patients not only in Hong Kong but across the world, the prospect of a cancer cure coming from a humble plant such as parsley may be difficult to imagine. But given the promising results achieved so far, it will indeed be welcome news.