News Feature | February 26, 2014

Indian Lichens Might Help Develop Breast Cancer Drug

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By Marcus Johnson

Lichens located in the northeast region of India might have potential to fight against breast cancer. Researchers believe that lichens could even help develop a new drug to combat the disease. Breast cancer is a major issue in India, where it affects as many as 1 in 28 women. Lichens are plant-like organisms that live on vegetation and on the ground. They are made of both fungus and alga. India is well known for having diverse lichen life, with over 2,400 different species of lichen living within the country.

Researchers at the Bose Institute’s Division of Molecular Medicine are studying the tropical lichen species Parmotrema reticulatum (PRIME)—which has the potential to stop cancer cells from replicating. The species can also kill cancer cells without damaging healthy cells in a patient’s body. Nripendranath Mandal, who is leading the research group, believes that PRIME’s positive properties could lead to a breast cancer drug.

“The 70 percent methanolic extract PRME which we used possesses significant anti-cancer activity against breast cancer cells in the laboratory, that is, in vitro. We have also demonstrated the mechanism through which it acts. Further studies need to be carried out in vivo (biological systems) to develop it as a drug,” Mandal said.

“At a dose of 300 micro-grams per millilitre, in 48 hours it exhibited 87 percent killing effect on cancer cells. However, it did not damage the normal cells.”

Nikhil Baban Ghate, another researcher involved with the study, expanded on the lichen’s anti-cancer potential. “When the components of the extract were applied individually, the specificity towards cancer cells was lost and the constituents attacked normal cells as well,” said Ghate.