In Vivo Effects of Chinese Herbal Extracts on Breast Cancer

Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Investigator(s): Michael Campbell, Ph.D. -
Award Cycle: 2001 (Cycle VII) Grant #: 7WB-0012 Award: $199,600
Award Type: STEP Award
Research Priorities
Detection, Prognosis and Treatment>Innovative Treatment Modalities: search for a cure



Initial Award Abstract (2001)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a treatment modality that has been used for centuries to treat cancer, prolong life, and increase the quality of life for cancer patients. The lack of evidence-based clinical trials coupled with the proliferation of anecdotal and case report studies of TCM make it an important treatment modality to study. TCM use in the San Francisco Bay Area is widespread and frequently used by our patient population, thus it can be studied using standard research models at our institution. There is a high degree of conformity among TCM practitioners in terms of diagnoses and treatments due to the extensive historically-based documentation of TCM treatment modalities.

We have recently obtained laboratory data on the effects of over 70 Chinese herbal extracts on the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. These herbs have been traditionally prescribed by TCM practitioners for metastatic breast cancer and other cancer patients. Many of these herbal extracts demonstrated significant inhibitory effects in our initial screening. We now propose to examine the effects of these herbal extracts in mice with breast cancer. We will prepare "teas" of some of the herbs that demonstrated growth inhibitory activity on breast cancer cell lines in culture and administer these orally to mice with breast cancer to examine the anti-tumor effects of these herbs. We will also isolate various constituents from these herbal teas and test these both on cell lines in culture and on breast cancer growth in mice.

Rather than randomly screening thousands of plants for anti-breast cancer activity, we have focused on plants that have been used for hundreds/thousands of years in Chinese medicine. In addition, we are administering these agents as "teas" which is how they are traditionally administered to patients.


Final Report (2004)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a treatment modality that has been used for centuries to cure cancer, prolong life, and increase the quality of life for cancer patients. The lack of evidence-based clinical trials coupled with the proliferation of anecdotal and case report studies of TCM make it an important treatment modality to study. TCM use in the San Francisco Bay Area is widespread and frequently used by our patient population, thus it can be studied using standard research models at our institution. There is a high degree of conformity among TCM practitioners in terms of diagnoses and treatments due to the extensive historically-based documentation of TCM treatment modalities.

We have recently obtained laboratory data on the effects of over 70 Chinese herbal extracts on the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. These herbs have been traditionally prescribed by TCM practitioners for metastatic breast cancer and other cancer patients. Many of these herbal extracts demonstrated significant inhibitory effects in our initial screening. In our current project, we are examining the effects of these herbal extracts in mice with breast cancer. We are also separating out various compounds from some of these herbs and testing their effects both on breast cancer cells in culture and on breast cancer growth in mice.

We have subjected an herbal tea derived from Vaccaria segetalis to a variety of procedures for separating out different constituents. Following each procedure we test the activity of each fraction for its ability to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. The active fraction(s) are then subjected to the next separation procedure. We have taken the Vaccaria segetalis tea through a series of these separation procedures and have gone from a tea containing hundreds to thousands of components to a fraction containing 4-6 components. We are beginning to identify these 4-6 components and to test them individually for growth inhibitory activity both in culture and in mice with breast cancer. We have also separated teas derived from Scutellaria barbata and Anemarrhena asphodeloides into several fractions, some of which are active and others are not. The active fractions are being separated further and will be tested for growth inhibitory activity.

We have prepared “teas” of some of the herbs that demonstrated growth inhibitory activity on breast cancer cell lines in culture and administered these orally or by injection (intraperitoneally) to mice with breast cancer to examine the anti-tumor effects of these herbs. Two herbs, Scutellaria barbata and Anemarrhena asphodeloides, significantly inhibited tumor growth when injected or when given orally.

Finally, in the course of this work, two questions arose that were not originally in the study design, but that we addressed. The first concerned the use of an alternative assay (called the MTT assay) for measuring the anti-proliferative effects of these herbal extracts. Although this assay is widely used, we found that several of the herbal extracts gave false negative results in this assay and demonstrated that this was due, in part, to free thiol compounds in the extracts that directly acted on the chemical used in the MTT assay.

The second question was, what is the effect of these herbal extracts on other cancers and on normal cells? We tested twelve extracts on a panel of breast, prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancer cell lines and found that all 12 had growth inhibitory activity on all of these cell lines. However, when we tested these extracts on normal human mammary epithelial cells, only 2 of the 12 showed anti-proliferative activity against these normal cells.

We will continue with the fractionation and analysis of these herbal extracts in future investigations. In addition, we will begin studies examining the mechanisms of action of these agents as well as studies examining their interactions with chemotherapeutic agents.


Symposium Abstract (2003)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a treatment modality that has been used for centuries to treat cancer, prolong life, and increase the quality of life for cancer patients. TCM use in the San Francisco Bay Area is widespread and frequently used by our patient population. However, the lack of evidence-based clinical trials coupled with the proliferation of anecdotal and case report studies of TCM make it an important treatment modality to study.

We have recently published the results of a study in which we examined the effects of over 70 Chinese herbal extracts on the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. Herbs were chosen for this study based on their traditional use by TCM practitioners for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer and other cancer patients. Many of these herbal extracts demonstrated significant inhibitory effects on the growth of breast cancer cell lines.

In the present study, we have examined the effects of some of these herbal extracts alone and in combination with low-dose chemotherapy in a mouse model of breast cancer. Teas prepared from the herbs were administered orally to mice with breast cancer. Chemotherapy was also administered orally. On their own, the herbs reduced tumor growth compared to control mice receiving water. Chemotherapy also reduced tumor growth, and for some of the herbs, the combination of herbal extract plus chemotherapy was more effective than either agent alone. We have also separated out some of the different constituents of these herb teas and will report on the effects of these both on cell lines in culture and on breast cancer growth in our mouse model system.