The Chinese Herb That Could Save Your Life

Closeup portrait, scientist holding 50 mL conical tube with blue liquid solution, performing laboratory experiments, isolated lab background. Forensics, genetics, microbiology, biochemistry

Each year more than 45,000 individuals are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It remains one of the most lethal cancers with a 5-year survival rate of  <5%. Thus far there has been little hope for those diagnosed. Current medications often add weeks not years to one’s life. However, a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, has brought some hope to individuals diagnosed with this deadly cancer. Researchers have discovered that an extract of the Chinese herb lei gong teng, called Triptolide, may actually lead to pancreatic cancer cell death.

The secret of Triptolide’s effect lies in its ability to override a cellular mechanism which allows cells under increased stress to avoid termination. Within a normal mammalian cell the ability to access protein is enabled through a process called protein folding, which occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). When there is a build-up of proteins improperly folded the result is increased stress within the ER which triggers the unfolded protein response (UPR). This response can compensate for the damage for a short period but if it is not resolved it will trigger cell death. Glucose related protein 78 (GRP78), a regulator of cellular stress more prevalent in cancer cells and tissue, helps preserve the cell before the unfolded protein response triggers the cell to die. And because it is more prevalent in cancer cells it allows them to survive longer and continue multiplying, which is why this protein is thought to play a major role in helping pancreatic cells thrive.

What the study found was that use of Triptolide inhibited glucose related protein 78 (GRP78), and induced the unfolded protein response which led to chronic stress within the cancer cell. The result was cancer cell death.

“This study not only demonstrates that triptolide-mediated ER stress induces autophagy, but it provides convincing evidence that the autophagy aids in cell death, instead of cell survival,” the authors stated.

The article can be found at: Mujumdar et al. (2014) Triptolide Activates Unfolded Protein Response Leading to Chronic ER Stress in Pancreatic Cancer Cells.

Amelie de Mahy L.Ac, providing acupuncture and Chinese herbs to the communities of Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Danville, Concord and Pleasant Hill.