Friday, October 27, 2017

A new study shows that liver cancer in Asia is linked to herbal remedies

A new study shows that liver cancer in Asia is linked to herbal remedies Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

The findings suggest stronger measures are needed to prevent people from consuming chemicals called aristolochic acids (AA), which are derived from the woody vines of the Aristolochia plant family, said the report in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The acids can be found in some traditional Chinese medicines that are given during childbirth, to prevent parasites and promote healing.
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Science Translational Medicine

Aristolochic acids and their derivatives are widely implicated in liver cancers in Taiwan and throughout Asia
Alvin W. T. Ng1,2,3,*, Song Ling Poon4,*, Mi Ni Huang1,2, Jing Quan Lim4,5, Arnoud Boot1,2, Willie Yu1,2, Yuka Suzuki1,2, Saranya Thangaraju4, Cedric C. Y. Ng4, Patrick Tan2,6,7,8, See-Tong Pang9, Hao-Yi Huang10, Ming-Chin Yu11, Po-Huang Lee12, Sen-Yung Hsieh10,†, Alex Y. Chang13,†, Bin T. Teh2,4,7,14,† and Steven G. Rozen
Science Translational Medicine  18 Oct 2017:Vol. 9, Issue 412, eaan6446
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan6446

The dark side of an herbal medicine
Aristolochic acid, an herbal compound found in many traditional medicines, had been previously linked to kidney failure, as well as cancers of the urinary tract. Because of these known toxicities, herbs containing this compound have been restricted or banned in some countries, but it is still available on the internet and in alternate formulations. By analyzing numerous samples from Taiwan and other countries in Asia and elsewhere, Ng et al. demonstrated the effects of aristolochic acid in hepatocellular carcinoma, a much more common tumor type. The authors showed that the use of this drug remains widespread in Asia and particularly in Taiwan, and that it appears to increase the risk of multiple different cancer types.

Many traditional pharmacopeias include Aristolochia and related plants, which contain nephrotoxins and mutagens in the form of aristolochic acids and similar compounds (collectively, AA). AA is implicated in multiple cancer types, sometimes with very high mutational burdens, especially in upper tract urothelial cancers (UTUCs). AA-associated kidney failure and UTUCs are prevalent in Taiwan, but AA’s role in hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) there remains unexplored. Therefore, we sequenced the whole exomes of 98 HCCs from two hospitals in Taiwan and found that 78% showed the distinctive mutational signature of AA exposure, accounting for most of the nonsilent mutations in known cancer driver genes. We then searched for the AA signature in 1400 HCCs from diverse geographic regions. Consistent with exposure through known herbal medicines, 47% of Chinese HCCs showed the signature, albeit with lower mutation loads than in Taiwan. In addition, 29% of HCCs from Southeast Asia showed the signature. The AA signature was also detected in 13 and 2.7% of HCCs from Korea and Japan as well as in 4.8 and 1.7% of HCCs from North America and Europe, respectively, excluding one U.S. hospital where 22% of 87 “Asian” HCCs had the signature. Thus, AA exposure is geographically widespread. Asia, especially Taiwan, appears to be much more extensively affected, which is consistent with other evidence of patterns of AA exposure. We propose that additional measures aimed at primary prevention through avoidance of AA exposure and investigation of possible approaches to secondary prevention are warranted.
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