TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A plant used by North American Indian tribes to make war paint could kill deadly breast tumors, according to new research. Bloodroot was worn by the Sioux, Comanches and Apaches to terrify the enemy when going into battle. It contains a compound toxic to triple negative breast cancers, one of the hardest types to treat, say scientists.
Bloodroot, endemic to the U.S., is endangered in some areas. It produces beautiful white and yellow flowers. Experiments show the chemical found in the plant, called “sanguinarine,” stops the disease in its tracks. What’s more, it was particularly effective in black women, who are most prone.
“Our findings suggest sanguinarine could have therapeutic potential for patients, particularly African American women with the disease,” says lead author Dr. Samia Messeha, a pharmacist at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, in a statement.
How bloodroot emerged a ‘promising tool’ to protect against breast cancer
The red sap bled by bloodroot, also known as Sanguinaria canadensis, was used to decorate baskets and clothes, as well as for the face and body. War paint was believed to provide Native American Indians with supernatural powers as they fought invaders, including the U.S. Cavalry. Like its cousin, the poppy, the wild herb is poisonous and a source of opium.
Sanguinarine could be a “promising tool” in the fight against breast cancer, say the team. Cells derived from women with African American ancestry were more sensitive than those of European origin.
“Triple negative breast cancer is especially aggressive in African American women, who are also more likely to develop this type of breast cancer than women of European descent,” says Messeha. “There is intense interest in finding new therapeutic strategies to fight this cancer.”
It isn’t fueled by hormones or protein, so it does not respond to hormonal therapies. Up to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple-negative.
Previous studies have suggested sanguinarine, also found in poppies and other medicinal plants, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. In this latest research, Messeha and colleagues used it to treat two groups of triple negative cells — one from women of African American ancestry and the other from Europeans.
The chemical reduced the viability and growth of both, with the best results in those taken from the former. It also activated different genes in each group, which could help explain why some patients don’t respond to certain drugs.
Could sanguinarine help improve the effects from other cancer drugs?
The researchers presented the findings at a virtual meeting of the American Society for Investigative Pathology.
They now plan to investigate sanguinarine’s effects in more triple negative breast cancer cell lines. They will also analyze its effects in combination with common medications for this form of breast cancer.
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie had her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after she was found to have an inherited BRCA1 mutation. Around 70 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in people with the variant are triple-negative.
They are considered to be more aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer, and tend to be a higher grade. It is more likely to be diagnosed in people younger than 50 and Black and Hispanic than Asian and White. Finding out whether you have inherited the gene requires a test using a blood sample.
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.