A growing number of laboratory studies are suggesting that honokiol, an active compound derived from the bark of the magnolia tree, is a potent cancer fighter. Among these is a study recently published in Oncotarget from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (both AL, USA), which demonstrated the potential efficacy of honokiol in head and neck cancer.
Honokiol is a phytochemical that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to treat various conditions such as anxiety. It has recently been discovered that honokiol also appears to shrink various tumor types, or prevent their initial growth, through the exploitation of various biochemical pathways.
The study from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Alabama at Birmingham focused honokiol in squamous cell head and neck cancers, which have only a 50% survival rate and are responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Americans per year.
The study reported that honokiol blocks the EGFR, a protein that has demonstrated to be overexpressed in almost all head and neck cancer cells, and that has thus been highlighted as a potential therapeutic target for these cancers. The authors reported that honokiol binds to the EGFR more tightly than gefinitib – a drug already commonly used to treat head and neck cancers.
In the study, the team tested the compound on cell lines obtained from human cancers of the oral cavity, tongue, larynx and pharynx. In all cases honokiol shut down the aberrant cells; results that were also confirmed by tests on tumors implanted into mice.
Santosh K Katiyar, senior author of the study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and colleagues commented, “Conclusively, honokiol appears to be an attractive bioactive small molecule phytochemical for the management of head and neck cancer, which can be used either alone or in combination with other available therapeutic drugs.”