“Christmas Berry” Compound Could Fight Uveal Melanoma
Doctors diagnose about 2,000 adults with uveal melanoma, a rare cancer of the eye, every year. In half of cases, the disease metastasizes to the liver. For these patients treatment options are scarce. Recent research has shown that a compound extracted from the Christmas berry primrose plant stops the cancer’s growth in preliminary tests. If it proves successful, the Christmas berry would join ranks with a handful of other plants that are the source of therapeutic compounds, and provide new therapeutic options for patients with uveal melanoma.
“I’m very optimistic,” says Jeffrey Benovic, PhD, a biochemist Jefferson and cancer researcher, who led the new work. “If the results are confirmed in animal models and eventually humans, it could offer a new way to treat metastatic uveal melanoma patients down the road.”
The researchers tested whether a compound derived from an ornamental plant in the primrose family known as Ardisia crenata, might be able to fight the disease.The compound, dubbed FR900359, or simply FR, was discovered 30 years ago from the plant’s leaves.
Dr. Benovic and team published their findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Research.
FR works by blocking a particular type of G protein that sits on a cell’s membrane, called Gq. G proteins are like computer interfaces that take input from outside the cell in the form of chemical information and often relay those inputs to the cell’s computer or nucleus. But a subset of these Gq proteins are mutated in uveal melanoma, turning on the wrong processes, and leading to cancer growth.
Dominic Lapadula, a graduate student in Dr. Benovic’s lab, grew three different types of uveal melanoma cells with the cancer-spurring Gq proteins in the lab. Then he treated the cells with FR.
“We didn’t expect it would work,” says Dominic Lapadula. “But lo and behold, FR very effectively blocked the growth of the uveal melanoma cells.” When the uveal melanoma cells were treated with small amounts of FR, the cells appeared to revert from cancer cells to typical melanocytes. “FR appears to be able to help reset the cells back to their normal state,” Dr. Benovic says. “Ideally that’s what you want.”
Higher doses of FR killed the cells, the researchers report in the new study. The results suggest the compound could be an effective drug to treat uveal melanoma one day.
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