Old Cancer Drug, New Formula
For the past eight years, Professor Zhijun Liu of LSU’s AgCenter has been focusing on a chemotherapy drug called Taxol, used to treat ovarian and breast cancer. It’s a potent drug, and the body struggles to dissolve and absorb it. Liu is looking for ways to fix that.
"Our bodies are water based, so anything we intake through the mouth has to be soluble in our stomach or intestine to be absorbed," says Liu.
In order to make Taxol easier for the body to dissolve, synthetic compounds -- called solubilizers -- were added to the drug. But those synthetic solubilizers come with really harsh side effects, like hypersensitivity. Food tastes off, a simple touch can hurt, sounds are too loud.
"So in order to reduce those side effects, you have to lower the dose," Liu explains, therefore reducing the effectiveness of the treatment.
Liu set out to find a natural solubilizer to add to Taxol, something that would make the drug easier for cancer patients to tolerate.
He found it in the Chinese Sweet Leaf Tea plant. Grown in southern China's Guangxi province, locals have been using the plant as tea for centuries.
In his lab, Liu starts with the tea leaf. After extracting it, he uses an evaporator to isolate the solubilizer. He compares the process to extracting cane sugar. By the end, the solubilizer is in the form of a powder.
Adding that powder to Taxol not only might make the drug more tolerable, it could mean it could be delivered as a pill, instead of intravenously. "People could orally take the medicine at home without having to the go the physician's office," he says.
Just by changing the ingredients a little bit, Liu is putting a new spin on an old drug.