Rodent of the Week: Herbs reduce intestinal side effects of chemotherapy

Certain types of chemotherapy can be brutal, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. However, an ancient Chinese remedy shows promise in animal studies for relieving some of those symptoms as well as enhancing the effects of chemotherapy in destroying cancer cells.

Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University, tested an herbal preparation called huang quin tang that has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 1,800 years to treat stomach and intestinal disorders. The four herbs in the preparation -- a set formation with specific pharmacological properties that Cheng calls PHY906 -- are Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch, Paeonia lactiflora Pall, Scutelleria baicalensis Georgi and Ziziphus jujuba Mill.

“It was used for the treatment of diarrhea and gastrointestinal disorders for many years and is still used today,” Cheng said in a podcast. “We wanted to see if this herb could be used to limit the side effects associated with cancer chemotherapy, with an emphasis on gastrointestinal side effects.”

In the study, mice were given a type of chemotherapy, CPT-11, which is known for its toxic side effects. Some of the mice, however, were also given PHY906. The study showed that mice receiving PHY906 lost less weight than the mice receiving chemo alone. Further analysis showed the herbal formulation promoted the growth of new cells in the gastrointestinal tract and had anti-inflammatory effects. Moreover, it enhanced the anti-cancer properties of the chemotherapy.

“You are increasing the anti-cancer drug action but also decreasing anti-cancer-drug side effects,” Cheng said. “It enhances the recovery of the damaged tissue.”

Cheng is the co-discoverer of PHY906 and has founded a company, PhytoCeutica Inc., to develop the formula with Yale University. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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