Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Aglaia plant indigenous to Borneo may hold potential in cancer cure

KUCHING: A plant native to Borneo may hold the key to treating nasopharyngeal cancer, according to research carried out at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus here.

The Aglaia plant — known as ‘Kelabuno’ among the Orang Ulus and ‘Segera’ among the Ibans – has been discovered to contain a highly potent anti-cancer compound called ‘silvestrol’, which is capable of killing cancer cells by preventing rogue cells from making proteins that they need to survive.

In the laboratory, silvestrol has proven to be just as effective in destroying cancer cells as most common chemotherapies.

The research, headed by Dr Paul Neilsen, is investigating if the compound is also effective in killing nasopharyngeal – or nose cancer — cells.

“So far, initial results are promising, suggesting that silvestrol may be a good candidate for the treatment of this type of cancer in the future,” he said.

According to Neilsen, nasopharyngeal is difficult to detect and inoperable as the tumour occurs deep within the nasal cavity at the base of the brain in a location called the nasopharynx. His research is to identify an alternative approach to treatment.

“About 75 per cent of patients are only diagnosed when the cancer is in its advanced stages and has spread to other parts of the body,” said the Australian, adding that since surgery was not an option, patients would typically have chemotherapy and radiotherapy as treatments.

Nasal cancer, which has a 60 per cent mortality rate, is endemic among rural communities and it is the most common cancer found among men in Sarawak.

It appears that while several ethnic groups indigenous to Sarawak have a high risk of developing the cancer, the Bidayuhs face the highest risk in the world.

“To put this in a local context, the Bidayuhs are over 30 times more likely to develop this cancer than the Indians in Malaysia,” Neilsen said.