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Biological Chemistry

Ginseng Compound Curbs Chemo Effects

by Lauren K. Wolf
August 22, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 34

Ginseng, long used as a home remedy for its perceived medicinal benefits, has inspired a drug candidate to protect patients from the side effects of chemotherapy (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1111332108). Samuel J. Danishefsky and John Hartung of Columbia University and coworkers synthesized analogs of the diacetylene compound panaxytriol found in the roots of the Asian Panax ginseng plant and determined that one analog in particular (shown) significantly alleviates the weight loss and nerve damage associated with cancer treatments. Panaxytriol has mild activity against tumors by itself, but in the study the researchers administered the analogs at subtherapeutic doses along with cancer drugs at therapeutic doses. They showed that, after two rounds of treatment with the chemotherapy drug Taxol, mice with tumors lost less body weight and had less nerve damage when dosed with the leading panaxytriol analog. Many cancer drug treatments have to be curtailed because of the nerve damage they cause, Danishefsky says, so it could be of great benefit that this analog is neuroprotective. The analog, when coadministered with cancer drug 5-fluorouracil, also boosted blood cell count in mice with tumors, suggesting increased immune function.


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