Rhubarb contains an ingredient that speedily kills cancer, research has shown.
Scientists plan to use the potent substance to create new drugs.
In tests parietin, the garden plant’s orange pigment, started destroying tumours almost immediately.
In just two days it had killed half the leukaemia cells in a culture.
It is now hoped the common pudding vegetable could be a game-changer in the fight against several forms of cancer.
Study leader Professor Jing Chen said: “The potential to base a drug on this pigment is there. It’s an exciting area of research.”
Scientists discovered the power of rhubarb while searching for ways to stop an enzyme, 6PGD, that drives cancer.
Its activity has been shown to increase in several types of tumour.
The scientists at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Georgia, US, tested 2,000 compounds but found parietin – or physcion as it is also known – was most effective at inhibiting the enzyme.
Crucially, the injected compound destroyed the cancer but left healthy blood cells unscathed.
A more potent derivative of the pigment, called S3, slashed the growth of lung cancer by a factor of three in just 11 days, tests on mice showed.
The same effect was seen on cells from head and neck tumours.
The research team hope their results, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, will lead to cancer-busting drugs based on rhubarb being developed within years to complement existing therapies like chemotherapy.
Parietin has previously been employed as an anti-mildew agent but has not yet been tested as a drug for use in humans.
Professor Chen said cancer requires a certain level of 6PGD activity to grow and once this level falls, cancer cell growth decreases.
He added: “Targeting 6PGD would be an effective treatment.”
Dr Hayley Frend of Cancer Research UK urged caution.
She said: “Cancer drugs have come from surprising natural sources but these are very early studies.
“Even if it’s proven that parietin can treat cancer in people, it’s unlikely anyone could eat enough rhubarb to get the benefits. You need to concentrate the parietin.”
Original article: www.express.co.uk