Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas have determined how a substance derived from the bark of the South American lapacho tree kills certain kinds of cancer cells, including pancreatic cancer and one type of lung cancer.
The compound, called beta-lapachone, has shown promising anti-cancer properties and is currently being used in a clinical trial to examine its effectiveness against certain cancers in humans.
A study by Dr. David Boothman appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He has been researching the compound and how it causes cell death in cancerous cells for 15 years.
In the new study, Dallas researchers found that beta-lapachone interracts with an enzyme called NQO1 to kill cancer cells without damaging non-cancerous tissues.
In Oklahoma, pancreatic cancer kills about 400 people a year. while lung cancer kills some 2,300 individuals annually in the state.
In Dallas, further research is needed, officials said. But UT Southwestern medical scientists hope that a drug like beta-lapachone can selectively target and kill cancer cancerous cells more effecitvely. The new drug may have to be used in conjunction with radiation to treat “non-small cell lung cancer,” a common form of lung cancer.