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jueves, 9 de abril 2020
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Phytomedicines to treat cancer

By Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo – Communications Office

The interinstitutional alliance for the research of common use plants as therapeutic alternatives for cancer treatments is among UdeA’s initiatives in the Colombia Científica program.


Photos by the Research Group in Organic Chemistry of Natural Products. Main photo: anamu leaves. Secondary photo: Laboratory of Organic Chemistry of Natural Tissues


Phytomedicines are alternatives for the treatment of diseases and they result from researching some plants and their life cycles. Based on this, the Research Group in Organic Chemistry of Natural Products, from the Institute of Chemistry of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences, develops the project called “Biological, phytochemical, and agronomic approach for the management of plant resources with pharmacological potential: contribution to the Colombian phytomedicine sector’s value chain.”

To establish phytotreatments against colorectal cancer, this group researches around 21 species of plants, including cashew, black pepper, bushy matgrass, and cranesbill, and three species that have showed promising data for the treatment of cancer: divi-divi, anamu, and guanábana, known by their antitumoral, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory features.

“We’re working on a wide characterization of these plants; then, we’ll visit their habitats to study their biological processes and create crops of them. We know that biodiversity is not an endless source, so we want to take specimens to cultivate them and generate products based on them,” explains Winston Quiñones Fletcher, PhD in Chemistry and researcher of the Research Group in Organic Chemistry of Natural Products.

This group is part of the initiative led by Dr. Susana Fiorentino, from Universidad Javeriana. The initiative also includes researchers from other higher education institutions such as Universidad de Antioquia and Universidad del Valle. It studies the features of some Colombian common botanical species as part of the Colombia Científica project.

The research work is divided into two stages. The first stage—called bioprospecting—establishes the pharmacological potential of the plants based on their traditional use in remedies and popular uses. The collection and characterization of plant specimens takes place during this phase, as well as the study and standardization of the components of extracts to obtain new phytomedicines.

The team’s starting point is the need to find new therapies for cancer treatment since, according to their analysis, current treatments are not appropriate. “Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are nonspecific because they’re not selective and they kill healthy and defense cells, affecting thus the entire organism of patients. The substances that we extract from plants are selective; therefore, phytomedicine can be more specific,” explains Sara María Robledo Restrepo, researcher of the Tropical Disease Study and Control Program (abbreviated PECET in Spanish) who participates in this project.

Although these plants are used to treat colorectal cancer—which is a localized cancer—, they may contribute to generating phytotreatments for other types of cancer such as bone cancer, stomach cancer, or leukemia.

We evaluate the extracts or product metabolites and we conduct a screening of these products in tumor cell lines and in normal cells. Those that affect antitumoral cells—but not normal cells—become then part of a model in which we analyze the therapeutic effects of that fraction of the plant in the tumor disappearance,” explains Robledo Restrepo about the process.

The second stage of the project—agricultural component—consists in planting gardens with those species identified as having potential for the generation of phytotreatments.

Many forest products are waste for companies, but for researchers, they constitute substances from which medicines and treatments can be extracted,” states PECET’s researcher. Therefore, the initiative called “Chemical byproducts of the forest” has been implemented to explore the properties of different family wood products.

One of the objectives of this initiative is to promote alternatives to reduce the problems of society through the assessment of environmental and social diversity of Colombia and its sustainable use thanks to science and technology. “We turn to bioeconomics because the project doesn’t intend to exhaust the biological potential of the elements to be used; instead, its purpose is to establish a long-term and balanced relationship between nature and industry,” states Winston Quiñones Fletcher.

The researchers will continue the analyses for an indefinite period of time.



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