Lapachone bark extract
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Tree bark extract might help treat rare eye cancer
An extract from the bark of a South American tree might lead to better treatments for a rare but deadly childhood eye cancer called retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma affects 1 in 15,000 children, causing about 3 percent of all cancers in children. It forms when developing cells in the retina -- the eye's main light sensor -- go haywire and start reproducing out of control. The cancer usually develops in children under age 6 and kills within two to four years after diagnosis if not treated. If detected early and treated with a combination of chemotherapy agents or radiation, 90 to 95 percent of children live. But conventional treatment has significant side effects. Dr. Joan O'Brien of the University of California, San Francisco wanted to see whether the tree bark extract beta lapachone could cause the abnormal cells to commit suicide -- something it has been shown to do in a number of cancer types, including breast and prostate cells. They tested the extract in the laboratory and found that beta-lapachone significantly blocked rapid cell growth of human tumor cells and that low doses could cause damaged cells to kill themselves in a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Writing in the journal Eye, the scientists said their findings support other studies of the extract in different human cancers and may lead to an effective treatment.
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