Ancient remedy could be a new anti-cancer vitamin

Dr. Fuad Fares, who has discovered what he believes is a new family of antioxidants, is keeping a tight lip.

cancer cells 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cancer cells 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Fuad Fares has a huge secret. It's big enough to make sure his laboratory is locked tight when he's not there. The Israeli Arab scientist has been looking into the potency of ancient herbal treatments, and has discovered what he believes is a new family of antioxidants. He's tested the secret compound based on an inedible plant that grows in Israel, and has found it shows excellent results in stopping prostate and colon cancer in mice, and in human cancer cells in vitro. Unable to disclose the plant's variety until further tests are made, Fares is hoping that this plant, first described for its medicinal value in Arabic centuries ago, produces an entirely new antioxidant molecule which can stop cancer in its tracks. It could be ingested as a food additive, or like a vitamin, he hopes. The body of research in scientific literature on antioxidants to stop the spread of cancer is growing. Scientists know that antioxidants such as lycopenes, found in tomatoes, fight free radicals, which can lead to cancer. They also know that glucosinolates found in cabbage varieties have anti-cancer properties too. New tests on the mystery compound done at the University of Haifa lab, in the Carmel Medical Center in Israel, have been overwhelmingly good, and in the future could be added to our arsenal for fighting cancer. Using a crude extract of the plant, Fares gave his test plant to mice as a preventive "medicine." Then the mice were introduced with cancer. Those that were given the crude extract were able to fight off the cancer tumors much better than the control group - only 20 percent of the treated mice developed cancer, while 80% of the control developed cancer. An additional point to note, Fares says, is that in the test group, the tumors were significantly smaller than the control. In a second test, mice with cancer were given the plant-based extract as a medicine. "When we looked at the cells inside the tumors we saw these compounds induced cell death and decreased the tumors by 70 to 80% compared to the control group," Fares says. He also tested the extract on human cancer cells in vitro and saw "a dramatic effect." After Fares purifies the compound, he hopes it will yield a brand new class of antioxidants. "Just used as an extract it seems to be effective," says Fares, who besides hunting for the next plant-based drug, is also a director of Modigene, a company he created while doing postdoctoral work at Washington University. Modigene is a biopharmaceutical company using patented technology to develop longer-lasting, proprietary versions of approved therapeutic proteins that currently generate billions in annual global sales. Now Fares is working on identifying the mystery substance, and will apply for a patent - and release the secret - if the compound is indeed unique. After purifying it, he might get even more startling results. And it could well be a medical breakthrough, agrees Fares, who found mention of the plant in an ancient herbal remedy book written centuries ago in the region. "It's known that antioxidants help cancer prevention and treatment. We are focusing on plants not known in the literature. It's not food, but a medicinal plant," says Fares, who declines to say whether or not inspiration came from a book by Rambam. The plant, he says, is something that grows in Israel and it's something that people don't eat. As for more details, he is sorry, but we will just have to wait. The original version of this article first appeared in Israel21c.