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Scientists validate local plants for cancer treatment.

Written by CHUKWUMA MUANYA - Nigeria

Mucuna pruriens Piper guineense
Chinese and Nigerian researchers have validated the use of bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina), Gongronema latifolium (utazi in Ibo, arokeke in Yoruba), West African Black Pepper or Ashanti pepper (Piper guineense, uziza in Igbo and ata iyere in Yoruba), sesame (Sesamum indicum), and Cowhage also called Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens, agbala or agbaloko in Ibo and werepe in Yoruba) in the treatment of cancers. 

A very recent study on anti-cancer and free radical scavenging activity of some Nigerian food plants shows that regular intake of local spices and vegetables such as bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina), Gongronema latifolium (utazi in Ibo, arokeke in Yoruba), West African Black Pepper or Ashanti pepper (Piper guineense, uziza in Igbo and ata iyere in Yoruba), sesame (Sesamum indicum), and Cowhage also called Velvet bean (agbala or agbaloko in Ibo and werepe in Yoruba) could provide the elusive cure for cancers.


The study was published in February 25, 2015 edition of the International Journal of Cancer Research.


The researchers include: Emeka Eze Joshua Iweala, Fang-Fang Liu, Rong-Rong Cheng, Yan Li, Conrad Asotie Omonhinmin and Ying-Jun Zhang.
The authors wrote: "This study was designed to screen different extracts of 15 commonly consumed Nigerian food plants for anti-cancer and free radical scavenging activities. Leaves, seeds or fruits of the plants were each successively extracted with n-hexane, dichloromethane, ethanol and water.

"The cytotoxic activity of each of the extracts was tested against human myeloid leukemia (HL-60), human hepatocellular carcinoma (SMMC-7721), human lung carcinoma (A-549), human breast adenocarcinoma (MCF-7) and colon cancer (SW480) cell lines using Cisplatin as standard.

"The free radical scavenging activities of the extracts against 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) were also determined. The dichloromethane extract of Vernonia amygdalina leaves (VA-D) showed the strongest cytotoxic activity against all the cancer cell lines with IC50 range of 5.85-8.84 μg mL-1. The dichloromethane extract of Gongronema latifolium leaves (GL-D) showed the highest activity against A-549 and MCF-7 with IC50 of 9.57 and 6.51 μg mL-1, respectively, while Piper guineense leaves (PG-D) exhibited the highest activity against HL-60 with IC50 of 3.62 μg mL-1.

"The other extracts were inactive against the cancer cell lines. The ethanolic extract of Sesamum indicum leaves (SI-E) and Mucuna pruriens seeds (MP-E) showed the highest free radical scavenging activity with SC50 of 6.8 and 7.3×10-2 mg mL-1, respectively.
"Other extracts of some of the food plant samples showed varying free radical scavenging activities. The results from this study suggest that some of the food plants screened may possess anti-cancer and antioxidant properties."

The researchers concluded: "In conclusion, the dichloromethane extract of Vernonia amygdalina leaves (VA-D) showed the strongest cytotoxic activity against all the cancer cell lines while that of Gongronema latifolium leaves (GL-D) showed the highest activity against A-549 and MCF-7. Also the dichloromethane extract of Piper guineense leaves (PG-D) exhibited the highest activity against HL-60. The ethanolic extract of Sesamum indicum leaves (SI-E) and Mucuna pruriens seeds (MP-E) showed the highest free radical scavenging activity with SC50 against DPPH. This study reveals that several plant foods that are commonly consumed in Nigeria could have anti-cancer potential, which could provide a plausible explanation for the apparently and comparatively lower incidence of cancer."
Another study on Nigerian foodstuffs with prostate cancer chemo-preventive polyphenols published in Infectious Agent Cancer by Sunday Eneojo Atawodi, found: "Dietary polyphenols are antioxidants that can scavenge biological free radicals, and chemo-prevent diseases with biological oxidation as their main etiological factor. In this paper, we review our laboratory data vis-á½°-vis available literature on prostate cancer chemo-preventive substances in Nigerian foodstuffs.

"Dacryodes edulis fruit (local pear), Moringa oleifera and Syzygium aromaticum (Nutmeg) contained prostate active polyphenols like ellagic acid, gallate, methylgallate, catechol, kaempferol quercetin and their derivatives. Also Canarium schweinfurthii (Bush candle tree) oil contained ten phenolic compounds and lignans, namely; catechol, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, tyrosol, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, dihydroxybenzoic acid, vanillic acid, phloretic acid, pinoresinol, secoisolariciresinol.

"In addition, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill) which contains the powerful antioxidant and anti-prostate cancer agent, lycopene; cabbage (Brassica oleracea) containing indole-3-carbinol; citrus fruits containing pectin; Soursop (Annona muricata) containing annonaceous acetogenins; soya beans (Glycine max) containing isoflavones; chilli pepper (Capsicum annuum) containing capsaicin, and green tea (Camellia sinensis) containing (-) epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), (-) epicatechin, (-) epicatechin-3-gallate and (-) epigallocatechin -3-gallate which are widely reported to posses prostate cancer chemo-preventive compounds are also grown in Nigeria and other African countries. Thus, the high incidence of prostate cancer among males of African extraction can be dramatically reduced, and the age of onset drastically increased, if the population at risk consumes the right kinds of foods in the right proportion, beginning early in life, especially as prostate cancer has a latency period of about 50 years."
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A Nigerian-born scientist, Dr. Samuel Achilefu, wins award for developing cancer-visualising glasses



Achilefu with the glasses on
A NIGERIAN-born scientist, Dr. Samuel Achilefu, has won the prestigious St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-visualizing glasses.

Achilefu, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and his team developed the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into a wearable night vision-like goggles so surgeons could see the cancer cells while operating.

"They basically have to operate in the dark," Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Achilefu, 52, as saying.

"I thought, what if we create something that let's you see things that aren't available to the ordinary human eye."

Achilefu won a scholarship from the French government to study at the University of Nancy, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a regional newspaper in St. Louis, U.S., and is the 87th person to receive the annual award since it was established in 1931.

Meanwhile, a Nigerian woman based in the United Kingdom, Nina Ndubuisi has invented a lifestyle programme that has successfully cut back excess weight in women and children in Nigeria, Canada, and elsewhere, raising hopes of containment of obesity especially among the rich.

Ndubuisi, who is a paramedic, while speaking in Abuja at the inauguration of 'Slim With Ease,' a global forum for reaching out to those affected by excess weight, stressed that her unique formula in cutting unwanted weight thrives on healthy lifestyle and determination.

Addressing hundreds of women and children, mostly those affected by excess weight gain, Nina said her priority is to help Nigerian women, children and men curb excess weight gain, noting that her goal is to eradicate obesity from the childhood of African children as well as other races around the world. Her programme, which has impacted women in Canada, UK and a number of African countries, has huge following on social media.

"Slim With Ease is not a revolutionary weight loss program that is sweeping across not just Nigeria but the whole world right now. It was inspired by my weight loss of 60kg in two years. I use to be very fat. People used to call me names on the street. People mocked me and I was determined to find a solution to my weight problem.

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has blamed childhood obesity, especially in developing countries, on the marketing of sugar-rich non-alcoholic beverages and ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

Director-General Margaret Chan yesterday told the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity meeting in Hong Kong that "childhood obesity can erode the benefits that arrive with social and economic progress.''

She said that childhood obesity must be accepted as a significant and urgent threat to health that was relevant in all countries.

Chan said that governments must take the lead and now was the time to safeguard the future of every child.

She commended the interim report on the work carried out thus far by the commission and commended the group.

Chan warned that voluntary initiatives were not likely to be sufficient. "To be successful, efforts aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages need support from regulatory and statutory approaches. Perhaps most importantly, you defined a moral responsibility and stated where it must lie.

"None of the factors that cause obesity are under the control of the child," she said.

Chan said that the number of overweight or obese infants and young children increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 42 million in 2013.

Chan said in Africa alone, the number of overweight or obese children increased from 4 to 9 million over the same period.

Married with two young children, Achilefu moved to St. Louis after he was hired by Mallinckrodt to start a new research department.

"Our efforts start with two words: 'What if?'" Achilefu said during his acceptance speech.

"These words may sound simple, but they embody the belief that each person has the potential to make a difference, if only he or she can take the time to understand the problem."

According to Bloomberg, the researchers' technology requires two steps: First, surgeons inject a tiny quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient's bloodstream. The peptides contained in the marker enable it to locate cancer cells and buries itself inside.

After the tracer flows through a patient's body and clears from non-cancerous tissue - which lasts about four hours - the operation would begin. Wearing the goggle, the doctor can inspect tumours under an infrared light that reacts with the dye, causing cancer cells to glow from within.

This month, the goggles have been used on humans for the first time by surgeons at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Four patients suffering from breast cancer and over two dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles since they were developed.

"The goggles function fantastically," says Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist who is collaborating with Achilefu to improve on the technology.

"They allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not yet been FDA-approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light."

Julie Margenthaler, a breast cancer surgeon, says tens of thousands of women who had had breast cancer lumpectomies go back for second operations every year because of the inability to see the microscopic extent of the tumours.
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The breakthrough in cancer research
~Nigerian Tribune

NOT a few people will be excited by the recent news of scientists in the United States who have finally discovered how to programme cancer cells back to normal cells thus making the ground-breaking leap of finding the much sought after reprieve for cancer's vast vulnerable victims. Humanity, without doubt, has been ensnared by the scourge of cancer for centuries during which the disease has either remained untameable or defied cure.

Hitherto, its victims all over the world have had to depend on various medical interventions like chemotherapy which apart from being expensive and harsh, do not guarantee cure. Even in medically advanced countries, cancer has remained a terminal disease even if a few of its victims still rarely battle with and survive it. Yet up to now, there had been no assurances to offer any hope to its victims and their distraught loved ones.

But now, with this method, cancer cells can be programmed back to normal cells offering a new line of treatments by stopping it and reversing the growth of tumour. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, US have likened the process to applying brakes to a speeding car that is heading toward a fatal accident. For the first time, aggressive breast, lung, and bladder cancer cells have been turned back into harmless benign cells by restoring the function which prevents them from multiplying excessively and forming dangerous growths.

One of the researchers working on the new breakthrough, Professor Panos Anastadiasis of the Department of Cancer Biology of the medical institution was quoted as saying that "we should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function. Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising. It represents an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software for turning off cancer."

There seem to be shimmers of hope that a new kind of medical intervention which can at least mitigate the virulence of cancer, even if it cannot cure it, has been found and humanity should heave a sigh of relief for having found a way out of cancer's painful trouncing over the years. This is another symbolic triumph of the human spirit over debilitating travails that should be celebrated.
But the ultimate victory is to be able to find the cause of cancer in order to be able to cure it and mankind may very well be on the right route to that with persistent research and the widening frontiers of knowledge.

Nigeria's Federal Government has to buy into this discovery early enough and look for the means by which this method can be made available here as soon as possible. It is true as some cynics may have observed that such feats will be impossible to accomplish in Nigeria's environment with its infrastructure deficits and poor work ethic. Yet, these are not enough causes for despair as Nigeria can still leverage on the available human resources which recently still delivered positive results on the treatment of the dreaded Ebola disease and which the World Health Organisation has duly recognised and endorsed.

Definitely with the appropriate exposure to relevant training such personnel could surprise the most adamant of all cynics in terms of the breakthrough that can be brought home if the government can encourage the acquisition of such expertise. There are legions of cancer patients interminably seeking philanthropic interventions in the cancer wards of teaching hospitals which just trickle in, overwhelmed by the barrage of requests. There are also a lot of women, battling with breast and cervical cancers, to whom this novel procedure will be the borderline between life and death.

Ironically, Nigeria has lost a horde of her vast human resources, especially the young ones still in their productive years, to the rampaging vampire of cancer. Many others who were dignitaries in different walks of life during their lifetime have also been lost to the disease that was hitherto considered as terminal. If the Federal Government shows enough interest in this breakthrough the expertise can be acquired.

The country's scientists can also be encouraged to intensify their research efforts to provide solutions to the myriad health and social problems. It is the only proof that Nigeria is part of the dynamics of the world.

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