Acupuncture Continuing Education

Chinese Herbal Medicine Fights Bladder Cancer

A new discovery finds that herbs commonly used by licensed acupuncturists have important anti-cancer abilities. New research concludes that the Chinese Medicine herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan powerfully and selectively kills cancer cells while exhibiting minimal toxicity to normal cells. Researchers discovered that the herbal formula potently inhibits the proliferation of bladder cancer cells when administered directly into the bladder. They also found that Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan selectively kills cancer cells while leaving normal bladder cells unharmed and that the herbal formula prevents the proliferation of cancer cells by blocking cell cycle replication, a process by which cells divide and then duplicate.

Chinese medicine helps in the treatment of cancer. Researchers selected the herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan for the study based on prior investigations demonstrating that the herbal formula inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma. In this study, researchers examined the benefits of Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan for the treatment of bladder cancer citing the urgent need for intravesical agents for the treatment of bladder cancer that are both effective and non-toxic. Currently, many of the chemotherapy drugs used in intravesical bladder therapy, a technique involving the direct introduction of agents directly into the bladder, have severe side effects. The goal of the study was to find an agent that can wipe out bladder cancer cells without harming the patient. As a result of the study findings, the researchers conclude that Gui Zhi Fu Ling  is “a strong candidate for intravesicle chemotherapy against bladder cancer.”

Many intravesical chemotherapy agents used in the treatment of bladder cancer lead to blood in the urine, frequent urination, urgent urination, cystitis and other complications. The study found that the Chinese Medicine herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan inhibited the growth of cancer cells but did not cause unwanted side effects. The researchers chose to study Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan because of its documented ability to inhibit the growth of hepatocellular carcinoma and cervical cancer. Particular interest was in one of the chief ingredients within the herbal formula, Mu Dan Pi (Moutan Cortex). Prior research documented the ability of Mu Dan Pi to induce apoptosis, cell death, in liver cancer cells.

Unexpected Discovery
When tested, researchers discovered that Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan may be as effective as the chemotherapy drugs mitomycin C, epirubicin and cisplatin. Further, the researchers made an important and unexpected discovery. The herbal formula exhibited significantly greater selectivity towards cancer cells than did the chemotherapy agents. In other words, Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan is more effective in targeting cancer cells than conventional chemotherapy agents. This highly targeted mechanism of action may point to one of the reasons, combined with its low toxicity, why the herbal formula does not cause harmful side effects. The researchers were able to measure the exact biochemical processes by which the herbal formula exhibited its effects and suggest that Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan causes genotoxic stresses on highly replicating cancer cells. The highly targeted genotoxic effects of Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan damage the DNA of aggressive cancers cells thereby eliminating them and preventing them from replicating while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan was discovered to activate CHK2 and P21, important proteins involved in cell cycle arrest, thereby interfering with the cell cycle progression of cancer cells.

Lu, Chi-Chen, et al. "The investigation of a traditional Chinese medicine, Guizhi Fuling Wan (GFW) as an Intravesical therapeutic agent for urothelial carcinoma of the bladder." BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 13.1 (2013): 44.