For her honors research project at the University of Adelaide, student Zahra Lotfollahi compared the effectiveness of three different types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells. She also compared the impact of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on healthy intestinal cells.
Professor Gordon Howarth, a Cancer Council senior research fellow at the University of Adelaide, one of Lotfollahi's advisors, said mistletoe extract is already authorized for use for colon cancer in Europe, but not in other countries such as Australia and the United States due to a lack of scientific testing.
"Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable alternative therapy overseas for many years, but it's important for us to understand the science behind it," Howarth said in a statement.
Lotfollahi found one of the mistletoe extracts -- from a species known as Fraxini, which grows on ash trees -- was highly effective against colon cancer cells in cell culture and was gentler on healthy intestinal cells compared with chemotherapy.
Significantly, Fraxini extract was found to be more potent against cancer cells than the chemotherapy drug, Lotfollahi said.
"This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells," Lotfollahi said. "This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such ulcers in the mouth and hair loss."