Researchers have found that the natural compound berberine effectively fights cancer cells in in vitro trials.

As lung cancer is widely recognised as the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, the global scientific community continues to make immense efforts towards finding ways to treat the disease. 

Scientists have found a sign of hope, however. A study that looks at berberine, a natural compound found in plants such as barberry and goldenseal, concludes that this herbal treatment can have a suppressive effect on lung cancer.

The study finds that in in vitro trials, berberine “suppresses the proliferation of lung cancer cells in the lab, new research shows. It also reduces airway inflammation and damage to healthy lung cells exposed to chemicals from cigarette smoke,” a news release notes.

In 2020, an estimated 1,796,144 people died worldwide from lung cancer, according to cancer.net

“Berberine has shown therapeutic benefits for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We were keen to explore its potential in suppressing lung cancer and reducing inflammation,” says lead researcher Dr Kamal Dua, a senior lecturer in Pharmacy at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia.

The study exploring the effect of berberine on non-small cell lung cancer was published in the journal Pharmaceutics. Dua and his colleagues have found that “berberine exhibits potent anticancer activity, suppressing cancer cell growth in vitro,” the news release explains.

The way berberine works to fight cancer was determined by measuring the mRNA levels of tumour-associated genes and protein expression levels. The study discovered that the natural compound boosts tumour suppressor genes and lowers proteins involved in cancer cell migration and proliferation.

Dua had published in April 2022 another research study in Antioxidants. The researchers in that earlier study write: “In our study, we explored if berberine (an alkaloid)-loaded liquid crystalline nanoparticles (berberine-LCNs)-based treatment to human broncho-epithelial cells and macrophage inhibits oxidative stress, inflammation, and senescence induced by cigarette-smoke extract.”

The researchers conducting the April 2022 study discovered that “can inhibit oxidative stress, and reduce inflammation and cellular senescence induced by cigarette smoke extract in lab-grown human healthy lung cells,” the news release notes.

According to WebMD, berberine is good for a number of ailments, including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Berberine has also been used for ages in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

Yet the plant extract is limited in its therapeutic benefits as it is not soluble in water and not easily absorbed in the gut. It is also toxic in higher doses and not recommended for infants and pregnant women.

Because of these drawbacks, Dua has come up with a different delivery system for berberine which relies on liquid crystalline nanoparticles, an advanced method that encapsulates berberine in tiny soluble and biodegradable polymer balls, improving safety and effectiveness.

“Cigarettes can harm the tissue of the lungs, impeding their ability to function properly, and can increase the risk for conditions such as emphysema, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” explains the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the news release, the researchers discovered that “berberine suppressed the generation of inflammatory chemicals, called reactive oxygen species, which cause damaging effects to cells. It also modulated genes involved in inflammation, oxidative stress, and reduced premature cell senescence.”

The researchers are now trying to translate the results of this study into something that will benefit as many patients as possible. They are working on figuring out the best formulation and delivery system for these nanoparticles so that pharmaceutical companies can offer berberine in a potent yet non-toxic form to the public.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies