“Christmas Berry” Plant Could Help Fight Melanoma

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Each year brings about 2,000 new cases of uveal melanoma, a rare form of cancer that affects the eye. Patients have limited treatment options and unfortunately, in many cases, the disease metastasizes to the liver. Now, researchers at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia are experimenting with extracts from the Ardisia crenata plant to stop the cancer’s growth.

The compound in question, FR900359 or simply FR, was discovered three decades ago and is synthesized from the plant’s leaves. It inhibits a particular type of G protein that sits on a cell’s membrane, called Gq, an important signaling molecule. In uveal melanoma, a subset of these proteins is mutated, turning on a molecular pathway that leads to cancer growth.

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We didn’t expect it would work because previous research suggested a related compound called YM-254890 did not inhibit the mutated forms of the proteins found in uveal melanoma”, said Dominic Lapadula, one of the co-authors. “But lo and behold, FR very effectively blocked the growth of the uveal melanoma cells”.

Uveal melanoma starts in melanocytes, the cells that make pigment. The condition is different from skin melanoma, yet both cancers are lethal. Even with surgery and radiation, the standard course of treatment, metastasis occurs in about 50% of cases.

When the uveal melanoma cells were treated with small amounts of FR, they appeared to revert from cancer cells to typical melanocytes. “FR appears to be able to help reset the cells back to their normal state”, noted Jeffrey Benovic, Ph.D. Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and team leader. “Ideally that’s what you want”.

The researchers are now looking to expand laboratory testing and hopefully start human trials in the near future. Their discovery could save countless patients suffering from this uncommon but deadly malignancy.

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