A natural brick in the wall in cancer battle

Medical scientist Amanda Clark from the Griffith Health Institute
Medical scientist Amanda Clark from the Griffith Health Institute

Medical scientists have long been divided over the benefits of natural remedies to serious health conditions, especially chronic diseases like cancer.

Now scientists from Griffith Health Institute’s Molecular Basis of Disease research group on the Gold Coast have found a concentrated form of Tea Tree Oil, Melaleuca alternifolia concentration (MAC) can halt the progression of some breast cancers in mice.

Direct tumour treatment

PHD candidate, Amanda Clark has been testing the anti cancer properties of MAC in vitro and found the cell decline she was researching occurred through the crucial mitochondrial pathway in cells. Mitochondria are the energy source of cell growth.

When transferred to mice MAC was provided as a treatment every three days over a 30 day period and shown to suppress tumour growth, replicating lab results.

“We used a direct intratumoural treatment which has the added advantage of treating just the tumour and not passing through the whole body, like an IV drip. We found MAC not only reduced tumour growth, but may have unearthed an antitumour immune response as well,” Ms Clark said.

“By also reducing the bad immune cells and increasing the good immune cells that can kill the tumour cells we have a good chance of replicating these results in other cancers.

Beyond breast cancer

“The next step is to move from breast cancers to prostate and then lung cancers to find out if this treatment is just as effective with different types of cancers in different areas of the body.”

The Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) has been a source of medical research since the 1920s and been used by Aboriginal Australians for millennia, mostly on the skin.

The MAC solution used by Ms Clark is developed and made by Prof. Max Reynolds who established the Australasian Botanical Medicine for Population Health Program at Griffith.

Natural products biologically active

“Natural products are inherently biologically active and meant to interact with biological machinery (bodies). With synthetic therapies we just don’t know if they will interact or not. Natural products also have structural diversity which you can’t achieve with synthetics, so that is a bonus,” said Ms Clark.

“This won’t be a complete therapy. If it develops, it will be something used in a combination of therapies, like how we treat cancers now.”