Botanical Medicine & Cancer

In the few years since the completion of the human genome project, the volume of research information on the molecular and genetic mechanisms of cancer has been increasing exponentially. Bioinformatics and systems biology are expanding the knowledge base of “-omic” sciences (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics) at speeds unimaginable before Y2K. This accumulating data is driving a tectonic paradigm shift in our understanding of the biology of cancer, which is increasingly understood as an enormously complex and inherently variable adaptive web of perturbations of “normal” molecular processes.

 

For mainstream oncology this paradigm shift heralds the possibility of transition from traditional clinical histopathological-based treatment strategies. Classical one-size-fits-all DNA poisons that are eventually defeated by variability of tumor response are being supplanted by “omically” informed personalized therapeutics using “targeted” agents such as humanized antibodies and multikinase inhibitors based on the unique characteristics of the individual tumor-host relationships in real time in each patient.

At the same time, botanical medicine has been undergoing a parallel transformation. Until recently, herbal medicine was circumscribed by traditional use data and at the same time disabled by the lack of pharmacotherapeutic evidence for its interventions. Today, the increasing availability of preclinical data on the effects of natural compounds upon cancer biology is articulated in exactly the same terms that inform modern biotechnologies of targeted drug development. Cancer inhibiting natural compounds from foods, herbs and spices are capable of “molecular multitasking” and pharmacological networking to influence numerous interrelated pathways of tumorigenesis and disease progression, simultaneously mirroring the multifactorial nature of the cancer process itself.

There are several challenges that confront the new paradigm in oncology which apply equally to botanical medicine. These include assimilating the high pace of information & research data expansion and new demands on resource allocation, including the cost and availability of individualized testing technologies and the complexity of their interpretation in clinical practice. The lack of clinical study designs capable of analyzing complex whole system interventions is complicating the process of accumulating traditional clinical trial driven treatment strategies. However, botanicals retain their two traditional advantages: low cost and low toxicity compared to synthetic targeted therapeutic drugs.

We have termed our approach to using botanicals Herbalism 3.0. This unique approach is redefining the way in which herbal medicine can be applied to the most complex of pathologies, and holds hope for translation of  fragmented and reductionist approaches into a collaborative medicine that will truly match the scale and scope of the cancer challenge.