Texas researchers have published findings stating that the bark of the Amur cork tree might eventually become a new treatment for pancreatic cancer. Their results suggest that this natural substance could also be useful in treating liver and kidney tumors.
The biggest advantage for using cork tree bark, important for centuries in ancient Chinese medicine, as a treatment is that it’s available as a dietary supplement in a capsule, according to ScienceDaily. Experts already consider it safe.
University of Texas Health Center researchers, headed by Dr. A. Pratap Kumar, discovered the value of extract from the bark indirectly. Already familiar with the extract’s promise as a treatment for prostate cancer, they learned that the development pathways of lethal pancreatic cancers are similar to those of tumors of the prostate. Their findings appeared in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
The National Cancer Institute cites an estimated 45,220 new pancreatic cancer cases for 2013 and 38,460 deaths from the illness that year. The five-year survival rate between 2003 and 2009 was 6 percent. Around 1.5 percent of Americans will receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at some point in their lifetimes.
The importance of the Amur cork tree dates to ancient Chinese history, according to SUNY Orange. Its inner bark produced a specific yellow dye utilized to distinguish religious and bureaucratic documents from less-noteworthy ones. The tree arrived in the United States with Chinese immigrants, who brought it with them for both sentimental and medicinal value in the 1850s. It is now a popular ornamental tree.
One problem in treating both prostate and pancreatic cancer is the development of fibrosis, which is scarring that doctors are unable to control around a tumor gland. When it develops, drugs cannot enter the cancer to fight it.
Two pathways that foster fibrosis also promote an enzyme called Cox-2 that causes inflammation. Cork tree extract appears to suppress Cox-2 and somehow thwart the formation of fibrotic tissue.
The initial Texas study was small; all 24 of the subjects in it tolerated the treatment of cork tree extract in capsule form well. Researchers are continuing to analyze the results and unravel the complex mechanism by which the tree bark affects the development of fibrosis. They note that fibrosis also develops in liver and kidney tumors, which then become resistant to cancer drugs.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.