A drug derived from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine may help combat prostate cancer, research suggests.
Celastrol, extracted from the "Thunder God Vine" Tripterygium wilfordii, is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant.
The drug is known to suppress the activity of a protein called p23. New research shows that p23 independently plays a key role in the way prostate tumours are fuelled by the male hormone testosterone.
"Excitingly, drugs that block p23 such as celastrol have shown early promise in treating several diseases, such as arthritis and asthma, meaning this research is already a step closer to the clinic," said study leader Dr Charlotte Bevan, from Imperial College London, whose findings are reported in the journal Molecular Endocrinology.
"The next stage will be to test the effects of such drugs on prostate cancer cells in the lab."
Previously it was thought that p23 only worked hand-in-hand with another protein called HSP90 to activate the hormonal response of prostate tumours.
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "These results provide an alternative route by which scientists could potentially target prostate cancer. What's more, p23 has a much more defined role in the cell than HSP90, meaning that drugs that target it could potentially have fewer side effects than HSP90 inhibitors. We hope these findings will lead to better treatment options for men with prostate cancer."