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Roadside Weed Kills Breast Cancer Cells

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

A plant previously dismissed as medically useless has been found to not only stop the growth of breast cancer cells, but do so without affecting normal cells.

Colleagues quietly scoffed when Professor Alessandra Devoto, a plant biologist, started dedicating her time to researching the medicinal properties of a roadside weed. The weed belongs to the cabbage family and grows in Africa, Eurasia and Europe in disturbed habitats. Because it has a simple molecular structure, it has thus far been dismissed by scientists, and Professor Devoto admits that people ‘looked at me funny’ when she first began her research into it 14 years ago.

After years of study, however, she appears to have proved them wrong. Scientists have found that Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as mouse-ear cress or thale cress, stops the growth of breast cancer without damaging the healthy cells. It could help the development of chemotherapy treatments without side-effects.

Researchers from Brunel University London, Royal Holloway, London University and Exeter University found that thale cress leaves, when treated with a plant hormone found in jasmine, killed breast cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue unscathed.

“The plant is very much like the Cinderella of the medicinal plant world - no one thought it was so special, but it has shown its true colours via our research,” said Prof Alessandra Devoto at Royal Holloway, University of London. “The discovery has important implications in developing treatments for cancer as well as other diseases.”

In this 3 minute video Professor Devoto explains her discovery and outlines her hopes for the future:


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