Ashwagandha has capacity to deal with complicated cancers: New Study

In what could be a major step towards cancer treatment, scientists at IIT Delhi in collaboration with others have shown how a substance in the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha can be a potential drug candidate for treating an aggressive form of cancer.

The research findings were published in the journal "Cell Death & Disease", of Nature Publishing Group, on 20 April, 2017.

Cancer is a complex disorder, largely defined as abnormal growth of cells. In contrast to normal cells that divide limited number of times, cancer cells keep dividing autonomously and can develop into unwanted mass of cells anywhere in the body or even acquire the capacity to invade to secondary distant tissues. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is one of the top causes of death globally. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the current mainstays of cancer treatment and are complicated by severe toxicity, undesirable secondary effects on the normal body functions and most seriously the treatment failures. Hence, a lot of research worldwide is focusing on developing NEW (Natural Efficient and Welfare) anticancer drugs.

The limited lifespan of normal somatic cells is regulated by shortening of telomeres (specialized ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that shorten with each round of division). In contrast, cancer cells maintain their telomere length. It is achieved by activation of telomere extending enzyme, called telomerase, or by a recombination based mechanism called Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT).ALT cells have very long telomeres and express aggressive characteristics of cancer. While anti-telomerase drugs are considered useful for therapy, the ALT tumors have been found to be unresponsive to such drugs.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a popular herb in Ayurveda, the traditional home medicine native to India. A number of studies in the recent past suggested that Withanolides, Withaferin-A and Withanone, have multi-modal anticancer activities.

Department of Biotechnology (DBT, India) - National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology (AIST, Japan), International Laboratory for Advanced Biomedicine (DAILAB) led by Prof. D. Sundar at the Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology at IIT Delhi and Dr. Renu Wadhwa and Dr. Sunil Kaul at the Biomedical Research Institute, AIST, Tsukuba, Japan, conducted this study.

"We jointly investigated the effect of Withaferin-A on isogenic telomerase positive and ALT cells and found that Wi-A caused inhibition of ALT mechanism. Utilizing bioinformatics and experimental assays, we found that it causes strong telomere dysfunction and upregulation of DNA damage response in ALT cells suggesting that Wi-A is a new candidate drug for ALT cancers," Prof. Sundar one of the authors of the study said.

Prof. D. Sundar, the Coordinator of DAILAB at IIT Delhi said that they could not accomplish these findings without the effective collaborations with Dr Sunil Kaul and Dr Renu Wadhwa, AIST, Japan and Roger Reddel, Children's Medical Research Institute, University of Sydney, Australia.

The authors have recommended that while effective chemotherapeutic drugs for ALT cancers are yet awaited, bioactives from Ashwagandha leaf powder offer candidates for further research and development of new drugs for cancer treatment.

The research groups from IIT Delhi and AIST, Japan have been working together in collaboration on natural drugs for more than 7 years now. The agreement for collaboration for academic cooperation between IIT Delhi and AIST had provided an opportunity for IITD faculty and AIST scientists to bring complementary expertise and innovative problem solving capabilities by leveraging the infrastructure/expertise at both the institutions.