A substance found in the popular Chinese herb huang qin triggers the death of tumor cells, while having virtually no effect on healthy cells.
Many researchers have looked to the capability of controlled cell suicide as a means of fighting cancer. But it is a risky approach, because it involves the danger of damaging healthy tissue, too. Scientists have been searching for substances that induce cell death selectively in tumor cells.
Now scientists of the German Cancer Research Centre have discovered that wogonin, a component of huang qin, causes apoptosis (cellular suicide) in cultured leukemia cells without affecting healthy blood cells. Wogonin has already been shown to reduce cancer growth in mice.
Dr. Min Li-Weber of the Division of Immunogenetics has found that wogonin works by radically increasing the formation of hydrogen peroxide in tumor cells compared to healthy cells. The peroxide, in turn, produces a calcium response, which triggers the apoptosis reaction.