Researchers from the University of Leicester have, for the first time, demonstrated the potential of treating ovarian cancer using the Christmas gift frankincense.
Frankincense, along with gold and myrrh, is one of the most famous Christmas presents in history, and is a fragrant plant resin extracted from the Boswellia sacra tree found across Africa and Arabia. Using the compound AKBA (acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid) derived from the resin, the research, funded by the Omani government, has successfully shown its potential effectiveness in targeting ovarian cancer, the fifth most common cancer in females in the UK.
More specifically, they have been able to demonstrate the ability of AKBA to combat cancer cells in late-stage ovarian cancer which is extremely pertinent in Oman where ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late due to a lack of visible symptoms and education on what to look for, making treatment difficult.
Lead researcher Kamla Al-Salmani, PhD student from the University's Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine explained: "After a year of studying the AKBA compound with ovarian cancer cell lines in vitro, we have been able to show it is effective at killing the cancer cells. Frankincense is taken by many people with no known side effects. This finding has enormous potential to be taken to a clinical trial in the future and developed into an additional treatment for ovarian cancer."
Frankincense has been used as a folk medicine for centuries due to its anti-inflammatory properties, making it a viable treatment for asthma, skin conditions and gastroenteritis among others. Previous studies have also successfully linked AKBA as a potential treatment for many other cancers, including colon, breast and prostate cancer; however this is the first study to demonstrate its potential in combatting ovarian cancer.
Dr Mark Evans, Kamla's PhD Supervisor and Lecturer in the University's Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine added: "We have shown that this frankincense compound is effective at killing ovarian cancer cells at realistic concentrations. What has been most surprising is that the cells we have tested which are resistant to chemotherapy have shown to be more sensitive to this compound, suggesting frankincense may indeed be able to help overcome drug resistance, and lead to an improved survival rate for patients with late-stage ovarian cancer."
Now that the researchers have identified its potential in targeting ovarian cancer cells, they are seeking further understanding of its cancer-killing mechanisms in order to inform on new drugs to take to clinical trial in the future.