Mistletoe extract being studied for cancer research

Mistletoe might not be just for Christmas anymore.

Australian scientists are looking at an extract of the holiday plant as a possible aid or even replacement for colon cancer chemotherapy.

Standard chemotherapy treatment attacks cancer cells but also destroys healthy cells. A new study at the University of Adelaide in South Australia reveals that the mistletoe extract Fraxini aggressively targets colon cancer cells while minimizing negative impact on normal cells.

Zahra Lotfollahi, who is conducting the experiments, used Fraxini samples taken from mistletoe plants growing on ash trees. Her findings indicate Fraxini by itself inhibits development of cancer cells, and when combined with standard chemotherapy Fraxini significantly increases the overall effectiveness of treatment. At the same time, Fraxini has little effect on surrounding normal cells.

This selective cell targeting shows Fraxini may be an ideal cancer treatment. Although further study is needed, Lotfallahi believes this is extremely encouraging news to colon cancer patients:

This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as oral mucositis (ulcers in the mouth) and hair loss.

European nations already utilize mistletoe extract to fight cancer, but Australia and the United States are still in the testing stages. Based on this research, Lotfallahi hopes Fraxini will soon be standard treatment for colon cancer patients everywhere. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in western countries.

Writer Bennett Holleman contributed this report.