Anti-Cancer Medicine Discovered by Tzu Chi Researchers


Story: Chiang Hsin-yi Translated by Alex Liu Photo by Tim Ku


So long as you live long enough, it is very possible that you will suffer from cancer and eventually die of it. Do you know that in every 12 minutes and 12 seconds one person will die of cancer in Taiwan? Even though cance r has frightened most people, it may not be as deadly as it is perceived.

Wo rld’s leading biochemists and medical scientists have been devoted to seeking new ways to fight malignant tumo rs. Fo r many yea rs a g roup of medical scientists have been silently immersed in the study of over 100 kinds of Chinese medicine raw materials for cancer inhibiting elements. In February of 2004, Unity Gene Labo rato ry of Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Center made an announcement: The traditional raw material Bupleurum Scorzonerifolium Willd. contains the elements which suppress cancer cells. These elements also attenuate drug resistance to Paclitaxel. Not only has this new finding amazed Taiwan’s medical society, its big potential for venture capital investment also caught the attention of Bill Gates, president and CEO of Microsoft Corp.

Harn Horng-jyh, director of Unity Gene Laboratory, stressed: “Because medicine scientists believe that all medicine structures have already been identified, it is nearly impossible to find new structure whatsoever. The assumption may explain why there has not been any breakthrough in medicine in the past ten years. Nevertheless, many diseases have re-emerged; the drug resistance in human bodies has been increasingly rising. Human beings were forced to turn to herbs for cures, hoping to create new medicine to treat malignant tumor.”



Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. may suppress cancer cells

The finding of pure elements in Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. by Unity Gene Laboratory was considered a major breakthrough in world’s anti-cancer endeavor. Harn said the research team learned that a lignan compound, an extract from Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd., is very effective in suppressing cancer cells, especially for lung cancer, liver cancer, ovarian cancer, large intestine rectal cancer, breast cancer, malignant brain spongiocyte lump and so on. It also kills the post chemotherapy cancer cells that possess strong resistance to Paclitaxel. However, it does not damage normal cells. Now lignan has become a source of the new generation tumor inhibiting agent.

In 1992, Paclitaxel was approved by US FDA (Foods & Drugs Administration). Initially it had given cancer patients some hope. But shortly afterwards, drug resistance began to develop in patients treated with Paclitaxel. It is entirely cureless when human body develops resistance to Paclitaxel. 

Medical scientists are not certain whether or not there would be resistance to the elements found in Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. However, these elements have been proved to be effective in suppressing cancer cells. Not only is its resistance much milder in comparison with the widely used Paclitaxel, it yields good result when both are used jointly.

And better yet, the dosage for the expensive Paclitaxel can be lowered when used jointly with Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. in chemotherapy. This not only will reduce drug resistance to Paclitaxel but also keep the cost of chemotherapy down. 

It was the fi rst time ever that the research team of Unity Gene Laboratory found active elements from BSW extracts. After this new found structure was announced publicly, medicine scientists will be ready to conduct medicine synthesis, and to further the testing on Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. in terms of absorption, takes, metabolism and toxic response. Clinical tests will follow. When it is approved clinically, it will then be used to treat cancer patients.


The structure that keeps cancer cells inactive

Harn indicated that, “This newly discovered structure may confi ne cancer cells and keep them in an inactive, static state. The end result is that cancer cells will cease dividing and eventually wane. ”

The progress of extracting compound from Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd., however, remains in the phases of animal experiments, experiment of dynamics and medicine synthesis. By estimate it would require at least another one to two years before the new medicine can be tested clinically, and then be used in treatments.

There is a heart-broken story behind Harn Horng-jyh, s diligent search for anti-cancer substances in Chinese medicine raw materials. Two years ago, Harn’s younger sister, who then suffered from breast cancer, died as a result of drug resistance in the fi nal phase of chemotherapy. He witnessed her suffering helplessly. Since his sister’s passing, Harn initiated the project of developing anti-cancer medicine from the extracts of over 100 kinds of Chinese medicine raw materials. He has been so thorough and detail-oriented that not even a minute clue was ever left out. He has already set out on his journey to the creation of anti-cancer medicine based on Chinese medicine materials.

It is diffi cult to fi nd anti-cancer substances from Chinese medicine materials. The primary hurdle is unstable sources. Besides, like twins, who are genetically related, will act and behave differently should they be raised in different environments, the problem was the inconsistent elements of Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. due to the discrepancies in the origins of production and growing seasons.

Research team members went to a wholesale market in Taipei and purchased a large quantity of Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. for lab uses. Because Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd. were grown on different fi elds their active elements vary. Luckily, the extracts from the fi rst batch yielded the best result, from which they identifi ed its active elements smoothly.


Better Understanding on Herbal Medicine Reguired


Story: Chiang Hsin-yi Translated by Angelina Ho

(An interview with Dr. Chiang Chih-kang of traditional Chinese medicine department under Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Center)


One time I went to the palliative care ward to visit a patient. The patient was an elder man, he was at the last stage of liver cancer and already unconscious. One of his family members said he had seen from TV news that there was a type of Chinese herb proved to boost resistance to cancer. He asked if we provided this Chinese herb in our hospital.

I believe many doctors have had similar experience. Even ants strive to survive innately, not to speak of human beings. When one sees a slight glimmer of hope, one would seize it and hold on to it. We have sympathy for the patient and his/her family. Nowadays, there are still some limitations of medical treatment, and not all illness is curable. We certainly welcome new and effective medicine, but we would not want to waste time or money if the medicine could causes delay of cure timing and harm to our bodies.

Research and development of new medicine is a complex process which requires a lot of resource and human effort. Moreover, it needs to go through many stages of testing before ready for clinical use. Researcher fi rst look at the mechanism to investigate the root of the disease, and from the result to defi ne possilbe cure solution. The investigation could be from collecting sample of cells, tissues , to animal testing, repetitious trials, and fi nd out the cure mechanism, treatment result, metabolism path and report of side-effects. Then, according to the research, the most suitable medicine would be used for clinical trail.


Flocking to New Medicine Gives Bad Results

There are three phases for clinical trials. To fi nd out if the medicine is suitable for clinical trail, the evaluaiton should carefully go through the research of side-effects, amount of prescription, treatment effect...etc.

However, there are about more than half of medicine has to be eliminated because of its side-effects. Nowadays, information is changed and updated repidly and media has increased demand for different kinds of news, therefore some incomplete scientifi c results are frequently presented to us. If additional commercial advertisement and promotion are used, people will get a false impression and fl ock to these medicines.

A few years ago, one hospital in Taipei held a press conference to announce the result of a research, and claimed that White Bean helps boost the resistance to cancer. When the news spread out, many people began purchasing White Bean. However, it was actually the extracted material of the bean that was effective. It would not do much just by simply taking it. Also, there is an urban legend about “Niu-Zhang Zhi” (Antrodia Camphoratd) being effective in resisting cancer. Indeed, research indicates that “Niu-Zhang Zhi” helps improve one’s immunity and represses the diseases. However, this herb has a “cooling” effect, and it is uncertain that whether or not we can use it on patients who are weak and fragile. A lot of similar cases have taken place before. Researchers need to be more careful with the results on these medicines.

In recent years, the increased usage of Chinese herbal medicine has caught the attention of other countries’ governments. They have begun to put in a lot of resources in researching Chinese herbal medicine, and we have a better understanding from the result. However, in most of cases, only one single element of herb would be used for experiment, the fi nal report is not equivalent to the original herb.

This situation is related to three fi elds of differences. First, the regulations for the medicine are made from single element and Chinese herbs are different. In Taiwan, the medicine which made from single element is categorized as western medicine, for example, Taxol is a cancer-resistant drug and extracted from Chinese herb, but it is categrized as western medicine. Second, the level of safety is different. For example, Dragon Mallow is a kind of wild vegetable, and usually used for cooling and detoxifying purpose. It is safe, when many people use it for eating purpose. However, some researches indicate that the element “ Solanine” which extrated from Dragon Mallow is good for cancer-resistance, but it also has serious side-effect. 


Quality Control and Repetitious Trials Are Mandatory

Third, the traditional theory of using Chinese herbal medicine is different from the theory of contemporary research. Western medical treatment is based on pathology. It searches for the controlling factor of disease mechanism, and uses it as a fundamental basis for researching a suitable medicine. The advantage of cure is precise and the evaluaiton of result is accurate. But the disadvantage is caused inevitable side-effect. As for Chinese herbal medicine, it is based on the unbalance of inner system of human body. By readjusting the system, it normalizes the functions of the body. The advantage is fewer chance of having side-effects, but it takes longer to fi nd the adjusting mechanism before seeing the results.

The results of researches on new medical treatments put forth new energy. However, they also need to be examined repeatedly to make sure they are effective and safe. Hopefully after reading this article, patients and their family members can be more rational and cautious on this subject matter. To ensure personal health and safety, patients should consult with medical professionals before taking any medicine.