Nature's Solution

Over the years of reporting about health and wellness I have become a little bit sceptical of what are called "breakthroughs".

Things which are presented are often not "break throughs" and it has become so important to base my comments on the solid evidence which surrounds a health development.

When I heard of a couple of CSIRO scientists living on the edge of a rainforest on the Atherton tableland who had discovered a medication from the rainforest which attacked cancer cells but left normal cells alone, I was doubtful.

My attitude changed when I met Dr Victoria Gordon and Dr Paul Reddell at their home and laboratory, just on the edge of the tropical forest. They were aware that for over a decade, an international drug company had searched the forest for potential medications, spending millions of dollars in so doing and had come up with nothing.

They were concerned about conservation and that the ribbon of rainforest was all that remained of a jungle which had successfully evolved over one hundred million years.

A rainforest which had not only allowed plants to survive but had encouraged them to constantly evolve. Dr Reddell described it as the "Pharmacy of the Future".

Sadly, farmers had cut the forest away and transformed the jungle into treeless pasture, not only obliterating the huge variety of plants but the equal number of animals which used the wet foliage as home.

Unlike the pharmaceutical company in the past, the two scientists became eco–detectives, learning as much about the forest and its tricks of survival as they could.

Amongst many things they discovered was that when the fruit of the brushwood tree fell to the ground, it was collected by a marsupial, taken away to a safe place and eaten.

The nut was discarded away from its parent tree, it seeded and grew into another plant but far enough away it didn’t rob its parent of nutriment. Both became jungle survivors.

They wondered why the marsupial didn’t like the nut so they tested it. Its taste was unpleasant and inside they discovered 500 chemicals. Each was studied chemically and can you imagine their surprise when one morning they discovered that a chemical they called EBC-46, dissolved tumour cells when left over night in a petri dish.

EBC-46 has been highly refined and is now being tested on tumours of animals that are so old that surgical removal is not indicated and may actually kill them - and the results have been excellent.

EBC-46 works this way. Cancer forms all the time in our bodies and if we are healthy, our defence or immune system attacks the tiny abnormal cells and destroys them so we stay cancer free.

Cancer develops when the power of its cells hone down the cascade of immune cells and chemicals which allows the cancer cells to multiply.

EBC reverses that and reinvigorates the white blood cells trapped in the tumour, and what's more, creates what is called "a neutrophil storm", dragging powerful white cells from outside the tumour and into the cancer cell to devour it.

The amazing fact is that all normal cells are left alone and there are no apparent side effects on them.

In normal chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, both normal and cancer cells are destroyed and it's a delicate equation to decide how much of the therapy to use so that an excess of cancer cells die.

Both therapies have side effects.

I have seen the results from animal studies for myself and I was so impressed I asked a Cancer Specialist who manages the biggest cancer therapy unit in Australia, to assess this new discovery.

He too was also impressed by the animal trials but says human cancers may be different to those which animals suffer.

The only way to appreciate the effect of EBC-46 on human cancer cells is to carry out clinical trials over many years and carefully assess the results.

None the less, the discovery of EBC-46 not only indicates the importance of conserving our forests for the future so that more medications may be discovered, but offers hope that there will be a new option for humans with cancer.

Despite the interest in EBC-46 it's so important not to offer "false hope". Human studies, planned to begin next year will take time and will be rigorous and it will take 5-7 years to develop.

Nonetheless, all journeys start with the first step but that step has already been taken.

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