Spicing Up Tumor Treatment With Silibinin

In Brief:

  • Silibinin is a compound obtained from the milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum)
  • In laboratory experiments, silibinin has been shown to hinder cancer cell growth
  • Silibinin also has potential in treating non-cancerous tumors such as those caused by Cushing’s disease

Claiming nearly half a million lives each year, cancer is an unforgiving killer that does not discriminate. According to the National Institutes of Health, 39.6 percent of the world’s population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point. With some exceptions, cancer often manifests as clumps of unusual tissue growth, or tumors. That said, not all harmful tumors are cancerous. Fortunately, cutting-edge research by Dr. Rajesh Agarwal and his team at the University of Colorado, Denver, shows promise in both cancerous and non-cancerous tumor treatment. The new method “spices up” tumor treatment using silibinin, a nontoxic compound derived from the milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum).

In their study, Dr. Agarwal and his team orally administered silibinin to mice and monitored cancerous tumor growth over six months. Based on the data, the scientists deduced that cancer cell growth is curbed by the presence of silibinin. The research group then placed silibinin-exposed cancer cells into a different group of mice to see if the compound would prevent cancerous tumor growth. It did! These striking results led Dr. Agarwal and his team to conclude that silibinin affects cellular processes associated with tumor cell survival.

Silibinin in Mice

Exposure to silibilin, a compound derived from the milk thistle plant, impeded the growth of cancer tumors

Not only does silibinin help curb cancerous tumors, but it also treats non-cancerous tumors like those caused by Cushing’s disease. Individuals with Cushing’s disease have elevated levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in their bloodstreams as a result of hormone-producing tumors. This leads to high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and rapid weight gain. While the majority of patients can have the tumors surgically removed, 15-20 percent of cases are inoperable. For those unable to undergo surgery, the only available therapy can cause side effects like high blood sugar. In these cases, silibinin could change the status quo. Recent studies on mice have shown that after being treated with silibinin, tumor cells began producing normal amounts of ACTH, slowing tumor growth and alleviating symptoms.

While milk thistle plants have long been used to treat liver problems, Dr. Agarwal’s research suggests that silibinin, a compound found in the plant, hinders and may even prevent tumor growth.

So back off tumors! We’re spicing things up with silibinin.

Works Cited

  1. Cheung, CW, N. Gibbons, and DW Johnson. “Silibinin–a promising new treatment for cancer.” Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry 10 (2010): 186-95.
  2. Agarwal, Rajesh. Interview by Vidhi Raval. August 2, 2016.
  3. University of Colorado Denver. “Oral milk thistle extract stops colorectal cancer stem cells from growing tumors.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150420144350.htm (accessed July 1, 2016).
  4. “Plant Extract Fights Brain Tumour.” Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. https://www.mpg.de/8951851/silibinin-morbus-cushing (accessed July 1, 2016).

Image Credits:
Feature Image: “Silybum marianum https://www.flickr.com/photos/124330160/517630677” by Andreas https://www.flickr.com/photos/124330160/ (Edited). License: CC BY-SA 2.0
Story Image: cSw Staff Illustrator Sreya Das

Chief Editor: Aparna Ragupathi
Creative Team Coordinator: Sreya Das
Team Editor: Emily Liu
Team Graphic Designer: Sreya Das

This article was written by Vidhi Raval. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff

Vidhi Raval

Author: Vidhi Raval

Hi, my name is Vidhi Raval, and I am a junior in high school. This is my first year writing for cSw, and I am so honored to have been offered the opportunity to do so since I have always been interested in the STEM fields. I aspire to pursue a medical career when I am older. My hobbies include dancing, reading, and writing, and I like to spend my time volunteering at local places. I am extremely eager to work with cSw again next year!

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for bringing our attention to a novel cancer therapy that offers great promise as an adjunct to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Silibinin has the potential to increase the effectiveness of these agents and permit lower doses that are less toxic to the patient. Great article!

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