Medicinal Plant Compound May Lead to Effective Cancer Drugs

Chinese plant Huang-Qin compound shows promise treating cancer and liver disease.

A plant used in Chinese medicine for treating fevers, liver, and lung issues has the potential to help treat cancer and liver disease, a study published in Science Advances found.

The Chinese plant scutellaria baicalensis, also known as Huang-Qin, has certain compounds called falvones that are found in the roots of the plant.

Flavones have antiviral and antioxidant effects, but can also kill human cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone.

The beneficial flavones found within the plants roots, like wogonin and baicalin, are different and the chemical structure in the hydroxyl (OH) group is missing leaving scientists unsure of how they’re made in the plant.

“Many flavones are synthesized using a compound called naringenin as a building block,” said lead study author Cathie Martin. “But naringenin has this -OH group attached to it, and there is no known enzyme that will remove it to produce the flavones we find in Huang-Qin roots.”

Researchers wanted to explore whether the Huang-Qin’s root-specific flavones (RSFs) were made from a different biochemical pathway.

The results of the study showed that researchers were able to unravel the mechanism that uses new enzymes to make RSFs, by using different building block called chrysin.

“We believe that this biosynthetic pathway has evolved relatively recently in Scutellaria roots, diverging from the classical pathway that produces flavones in leaves and flowers, specifically to produce chrysin and its derived flavones,” Martin said.

These flavones will help further research for potential medical use and help patients suffering from cancer and liver diseases.

“Understanding the pathway should help us to produce these special flavones in large quantities, which will enable further research into their potential medicinal uses,” Martin said. “…It's exciting to consider that the plants which have been used as traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years may lead to effective modern medicines.”