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Exciting new research into a traditional Indian herb is showing it has the ability to block the spread and invasiveness of cancer cells, potentially leading to an alternative treatment to chemotherapy.

The medicinal herb Bacopa monnieri, known as Brahmi, has been used in Indian medicine for thousands of years, mainly to enhance memory and cognitive function.

However new research at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI), led by Oncologist Dr Amanda Townsend and Group Leader of Molecular Oncology research, Dr Jennifer Hardingham, has found compounds within the herb, called Bacopasides, can block tumour growth and spread.

Post-doctoral Scientist, Dr Helen Palethorpe, has studied the behaviour of Bacopasides and discovered they can prevent tumour blood vessels from forming and therefore starve tumours of the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow.

“We have also found that Bacopasides cause cell death in breast and colorectal cancer cell lines, and inhibit the migration and invasion of breast cancer mammospheres (3D cultured breast cancer cells),” Dr Palethorpe said.

We are hopeful that Bacopasides will be a safer alternative to standard chemotherapy given that the herb has been used for thousands of years in humans without any untoward toxic effects.

Dr Palethorpe said the work has focused on blocking angiogenesis (the formation of blood vessels in cancer) and tumour invasion.

“These processes cause the tumour cells to metastasise and form cancers in other parts of the body, such as the brain and bone,” she said.

“This is a major cause of breast cancer related deaths so we hope that by blocking angiogenesis and invasion we can prevent breast cancer from spreading.”

The promising research is in its early stages but if further pre-clinical tests continue to be successful, the research can progress to human clinical trials.