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04 May 2023     

HKMU research finds that Chinese medicine Danshen reduces cancer drug side effects and provides insights into integrated Chinese and Western medical treatment for cancer

Researchers at Hong Kong Metropolitan University (HKMU) found that components of traditional Chinese medicine Danshen help reduce high blood pressure as an adverse effect of cancer drugs, thereby enhancing the treatment effect. The research team is striving to find the best extract of Danshen and its effect on concurrent treatment with Western medicine. The research findings are expected to provide much stronger support for combined Chinese and Western medical treatment of cancer and give hope to cancer patients in dealing with the side effects of Western medicine.

The Western drug Bevacizumab (Bev) is used as first-line treatment of colorectal and lung cancer by inhibiting angiogenesis. However, hypertension is a common adverse effect of Bev. Existing antihypertensive drugs show efficacy in controlling Bev-induced hypertension but inhibit Bev’s anti-angiogenic effect, thus decreasing the therapeutic efficacy. There are still no evidence-based guidelines on the treatment of Bev-induced hypertension.

Recent research led by Dr Emily Wong, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Science in HKMU’s School of Science and Technology and Programme Leader of Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnology, found that Danshensu, the active component in Danshen, can lower blood pressure without affecting the therapeutic efficacy of Bev. In clinical applications, Danshen is often used by Chinese medicine practitioners to treat cardiovascular diseases. Recently, an aqueous extract of Danshen was reported to have properties similar to those of Bev, but also inhibits angiogenesis and enhances the effectiveness of cancer treatment. Dr Wong’s team also discovered that the extraction methods of Danshen’s components, such as decoction extraction, aqueous extraction and solvent extraction, may have different therapeutic effects on cancer and reducing blood pressure.

In addition to her teaching and research roles, Dr Wong is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner with a PhD in Pharmacology and Pharmacy. Her teaching and research interests include Chinese medicine, pharmacology, cancer treatment and vascular biology, focusing on combined Chinese and Western medications. Dr Wong is currently investigating the best extract of Danshen and its effect on concurrent treatment with Western medicine. The research is expected to significantly enhance the clinical application of the cancer drug Bev.

The research is a collaboration project between HKMU and the LKS Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong. It received over HK$1.3 million in funding in the latest round of Competitive Research Funding Schemes for the Local Self-financing Degree Sector of the Research Grants Council in recognition of its achievements and impact.