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Herb-like Compound May Be Alternative Treatment for Mesothelioma

alternative treatment for mesothelioma

A man-made version of a traditional Chinese herb could be an alternative treatment for mesothelioma. 

Turkish researchers have published a new study on a drug called halofuginone. The study shows the drug has significant anticancer effects on mesothelioma cells. 

In an article in Cell Biology International, they explore how halofuginone affects mesothelioma and lung cancer cells. 

Mesothelioma Patients Need Another Treatment Option

Mesothelioma is an asbestos-linked cancer that is hard to treat. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type. Pleural mesothelioma grows quickly. It usually causes few symptoms until it is very advanced. 

Chemotherapy is the main treatment. When that stops working, many patients look for an alternative treatment for mesothelioma. 

Scientists are studying immunotherapy, new kinds of radiotherapy, and even light-based treatments for mesothelioma. So far, there is no reliable second-line alternative treatment for mesothelioma. 

The Promise of Halofuginone

Halofuginone is a synthetic molecule. It is an analog of febrifugine. Febrifugine is an alkaloid found in the Chinese herb Dichroa febrifuga (Chang Shan).

In 2015 , Israeli researchers published an article about halofuginone. They wrote, “During recent years, halofuginone has attracted much attention because of its wide range of beneficial biological activities, which encompass malaria, cancer, and fibrosis-related and autoimmune diseases.”

The Turkish study aimed to understand  halofuginone’s effect on mesothelioma cells. If it limits their growth or causes cell death, it could be an alternative treatment for mesothelioma. 

Testing the Alternative Treatment for Mesothelioma

This was the first time for halofuginone tests on malignant mesothelioma cells. Researchers tested the alternative treatment for mesothelioma on lung cancer cells, too. 

They found that the drug interrupts the cell cycle. It interferes with signaling proteins. This causes mesothelioma cells to die earlier and at a faster rate. The more halofuginone the researchers used, the more  mesothelioma cells died. This was also true for the lung cancer cells. 

“HF exerts its anti-cancer effects in lung-derived cancers by targeting signal transduction pathways…to reduce cancer cell viability, induce cell cycle arrest, and apoptotic cell death,” writes lead author Asuman Demiroglu-Zergeroglu.

Malignant cells were more susceptible to halofuginone than normal cells. 

The research team concludes that halofuginone might be an  alternative treatment for mesothelioma. But there have been no US clinical trials on Chinese herbs for mesothelioma.

A British Medical Journal published a review of Chinese clinical trials on herbs in 2013. Most of those studies combined conventional and alternative treatment for mesothelioma. 


Asuman, DZ, et al, “Anti-carcinogenic Effects of Halofuginone on Lung Derived Cancer Cells”, May 21, 2020, Cell Biology International, Epub ahead of print, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cbin.11399

Qihe, X, et al, “The quest for modernisation of traditional Chinese medicine”, June 13, 2013, BMC Complementatry and Alternative Medicine, pp. 132, https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6882-13-132

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