UAEU researchers as part of a global task force re-address untreatable cancers & disease relapse

Al Ain, November 18, 2015 – Combinations of a significant number of non-toxic chemicals, many of which can be found in plants and foods, may give us a chance to stop untreatable cancers and prevent disease .

Many cancer therapies are highly toxic, and even when they appear to work, a significant percentage of patients will experience a relapse after only a few months. Typically these relapses result from small subpopulations of mutated cells which are resistant to therapy, and doctors who try to address this problem with combinations of therapies find that therapeutic toxicity typically limits their ability to stop most cancers.

To tackle this problem, UAEU scientists in collaboration with colleagues from top tier institutions such as Harvard, MIT, University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, John Hopkins, Duke, Cornell, and NIH were put together by a Canadian NGO called "Getting to Know Cancer". Interdisciplinary teams were formed and they nominated a series of high-priority molecular targets (74 in total) that could be reached with chemicals to improve patient outcomes in most cancers. Corresponding low-toxicity chemical approaches were then recommended as potential candidates for a mixture of chemicals that could reach a broad-spectrum of priority targets in most cancer types.

"Similar to saffron (the golden spice) and its bioactive molecules that my lab, among many other groups, has shown their potent effects against various types of cancer essentially due to their low toxicity, most of chemicals selected for this initiative can be extracted from plants and foods. Although, we have shown anticancer effects of saffron/saffron-based chemicals against individual cancer types such as liver and colorectal cancers, there has almost been no research done on combinations of saffron's chemicals with others such as resveratrol in grapes, genistein in soy and curcumin" said Amr A. Amin, PhD, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology Department, UAE University. Amin is member of the advisory board of "Getting to Know Cancer" and a contributing author of this synthesis which has just been published along with nine other review articles in a special issue of Elsevier's journal Seminars in Cancer Biology. Amin added, "It is to be commended that UAEU, as UAE leading research institute, has generously supported my intellectual contribution to such an international initiative".

"These publications are extremely exciting and relevant to UAE and the Middle East, as we have a rich heritage and culture of using herbs and herbal medicines and perhaps one or more of these medicinal plants may hold the key to winning the war against cancer – the plague of our times", said Dr. S. Salman Ashraf, Professor of Biochemistry, another team member from UAEU who is a co-author on these 10 high impact-factor publications. Dr. Eyad Elkord, an Associate Professor of Immunology at the College of Medicine & Health Sciences, a co-author on two of these publications added, "Tumors are very elusive and employ several mechanisms to escape immune recognition and destruction, therefore more effective therapeutic approaches should be designed to tackle different immune evasion mechanisms".

This was the first time that this large-scale problem has ever been considered by teams that could interpret the full spectrum of cancer biology and incorporate what is now known about non-toxic chemicals with anti-cancer effects. In light of this evidence, the task force is calling for an immediate increase in support for research on mixtures of chemicals that can reach a broad-spectrum of therapeutic targets.

The taskforce wanted to produce an approach to therapy that would also have the potential to be very low cost, so this approach may hold considerable promise for low-middle income countries where many of the latest cancer therapies are deemed unaffordable.