A group of researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has made a significant breakthrough in the field of pancreatic cancer treatment. Led by Dr. Joshua Ko Ka-Shun, their study explored the potential of isoliquiritigenin (ISL), a flavonoid derived from licorice, in inhibiting the progression of pancreatic cancer. The research also revealed that ISL could enhance the efficacy of conventional chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat this aggressive malignancy. This pioneering exploration into the anticancer properties of ISL for pancreatic cancer opens up new possibilities for alternative treatments and adjuvants.
Pancreatic cancer is often referred to as the “silent killer” due to its high mortality rates and lack of noticeable symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. The World Cancer Statistics 2020 report showed that pancreatic cancer has a mortality-to-incidence ratio exceeding 93%. In Hong Kong, it ranks as the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. These statistics highlight the urgent need for improved treatment options for this deadly disease.
The current standard of treatment for pancreatic cancer includes the Whipple operation (pancreaticoduodenectomy) and the use of the chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine (GEM). However, the Whipple operation is only applicable to a small percentage of patients, and recurrence rates remain high even for those who undergo the surgery. GEM, on the other hand, is associated with chemoresistance and severe systemic toxicity, posing significant challenges for patients and healthcare providers.
In their pursuit of alternative treatments, Dr. Ko and his team conducted a comprehensive investigation using network pharmacology. Through this approach, they identified ISL as a potent candidate for pancreatic cancer treatment. Cell experiments demonstrated that ISL effectively inhibited the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and induced programmed cell death. Furthermore, ISL exhibited the ability to block autophagy, a natural cellular process responsible for eliminating damaged or unnecessary components, leading to the death of pancreatic cancer cells.
To further evaluate ISL’s efficacy in inhibiting pancreatic cancer cell growth, the researchers conducted experiments using a mouse tumor model. The results showed that ISL had comparable treatment effects to GEM, but with fewer side effects such as neutropenia, anemia, and weight loss. This further supports the potential of ISL as a viable treatment option for pancreatic cancer.
One of the significant challenges in pancreatic cancer treatment is chemoresistance to drugs like GEM. ISL’s ability to counteract this chemoresistance was demonstrated through experiments combining ISL with GEM or another chemotherapeutic drug, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). The results showed that ISL enhanced the growth inhibition rate of pancreatic cancer cells when used in combination with these drugs, highlighting its potential to improve treatment outcomes.
The groundbreaking research led by Dr. Joshua Ko Ka-Shun and his team at HKBU has unveiled the enormous potential of isoliquiritigenin (ISL) in inhibiting the progression of pancreatic cancer. This work marks the first exploration of ISL as an anticancer agent for pancreatic cancer, offering new hope for patients and revolutionizing treatment approaches for this aggressive malignancy. The study emphasizes the importance of further research and collaboration to evaluate the clinical application of ISL in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, providing a powerful weapon in the fight against this devastating disease.