A natural extract derived from Neem tree could potentially be used to treat the highly lethal pancreatic cancer, says a team of researchers including Indian - origin scientists.
The results revealed that nimbolide, an active molecule isolated from Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), can stop pancreatic cancer's growth and spread without harming normal, healthy cells.
"The promise nimbolide has shown is amazing, and the specificity of the treatment towards cancer cells over normal cells is very intriguing, " said Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy, associate professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso in the US.
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all cancers with 94 percent of patients dying within five years of diagnosis.
The cancer grows quickly and there are currently no effective treatments available.
In the study, Lakshmanaswamy and colleagues observed that nimbolide was able to reduce the migration and invasion capabilities of pancreatic cancer cells by 70 percent - - meaning the cancerous cells did not become aggressive and spread.
And that is promising, the researchers said.
In humans, this migration and invasion - - or metastasis - - of pancreatic cancer to other regions of the body is the chief cause of mortality.
Nimbolide treatments also induced cancer cell death, causing the size and number of pancreatic cancer cell colonies to drop by 80 percent.
"Nimbolide seems to attack pancreatic cancer from all angles, " Lakshmanaswamy said.
What is more, the Neem compound did not harm healthy cells in both the in vitro and in vivo experiments.
"Many people in India actually eat neem and it doesn't have harmful side effects, which suggests that using nimbolide for pancreatic cancer will not cause adverse effects like chemotherapy and radiation typically do, " study lead author Ramadevi Subramani, postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Centre, said.
The findings appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.
While the results are promising, Lakshmanaswamy said there is still a long way to go before nimbolide can be used to treat pancreatic cancer in humans.
The researchers said they plan to continue researching the anticancer mechanisms behind the plant extract.