McGill University researchers said the study focused on a class of natural products known as cyclopenta benzofuran flavaglines, or CBFs. Working with mice genetically modified to mimic human leukemias, they found the CBF compound silvestrol can make tumors susceptible to the killing effects of anticancer drugs.
Silvestrol is a natural compound derived from a large genus of trees and shrubs found in Malaysia, South China and some Pacific islands, the scientists said. It's been used in Malaysian folk medicine for generations, but never as a cancer therapy.
The researchers cautioned trials in humans and possible treatments are still many years away.
The results of the study that included Boston University, the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Vienna and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are published in the June issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
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