Noni Leaf Extract Superior To Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer (Preclinical Study)

Tragically, 1.4 million die from lung cancer each year, with 1.6 million newly diagnosed. Could this humble leaf extract beat a drug that can cost over 100,000 dollars to improve lung cancer survival only a few months?

A promising new study published in the journal Food & Function titled, "Morinda citrifolia edible leaf extract enhanced immune response against lung cancer," has found that an alcohol-based leaf extract of the noni tree (Morinda Citrifolia) was more effective than a commonly used chemotherapy drug in treating lung cancer in an animal model.  

In the new study, a team of Malaysian researchers tested the relative effectiveness of the drug erlotinib (trade name Tarceva), a so-called epidemal growth factor receptor inhibitor (EGFR inhibitor), to a noni leaf extract, in lung tumor-induced albino house mice (BALB/c), and found that 21 days of treatment with a 300 mg kg-1 body weight of leaf extract was more effective suppressing lung tumour growth than a 50 mg kg-1 body weight erlotinib treatment.

Remarkably, the noni leaf extract was observed to positively modulate a wide range of biological pathways, without discernable adverse effects:

  • Increasing blood lymphocyte counts

  • Increasing spleen tissue B cells

  • Increasing T cells

  • Increasing natural killer cells

  • Reduced epidemal growth factor receptor (EGFR)

  • Suppressed cyclooxgenase 2 (COX2) inflammatory markers

  • Enhanced the tumor suppressor gene (phosphatase and tensin homolog, PTEN)

  • Inhibited the tumour growth cellular genes transformed mouse 3T3 cell double minute 2 (MDM2) and V-raf-leukemia viral oncogene 1 (RAF1)

  • Inhibited the mechanistic target of rapamycin (MTOR)) mRNA expression in the tumors.

The study provided background on present-day lung cancer statistics, and dismal conventional treatment outcomes:

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, with 1.6 million new cases and 1.4 million deaths per year. Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for approximately 85% of all lung cancer cases, with a 5-year survival rate of only 16%.  Chemotherapy is relatively ineffective for patients with advanced NSCLC and the response rate is only 20% to 35% with a median survival of 10 to 12 months.  In a phase III study, the use of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) drugs, such as erlotinib, significantly improved the overall survival rate relative to supportive care for refractory stage IIIB/IV NSCLC. However, erlotinib use is limited because of several serious side effects3 and the emergence of cancer mutations which confer drug resistance. The common erlotinib side effects are weakness, diarrhoea, rashes, shortness of breath, coughing, loss of appetite, fatigue (feeling tired), and nausea. Erlotinib may cause more serious side effects such as lung problems (shortness of breath, coughing, and fever); interstitial lung disease and liver and kidney problems; blistering and skin peeling; gastrointestinal perforation; bleeding and clotting problems which may lead to heart attacks, strokes, dry eyes, unusual eyelash growth, or swelling of the corneas; harm to unborn babies and even death."

Not mentioned in the study, but highly relevant to the topic at hand, is the extraordinarily high cost of chemotherapy drugs like erlotinib, despite the relatively small gains they produce.

A 2010 Medscape article reported that erlotinib, which has been the standard of care for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in the U.S. in Canada ever since the NCIC Clinical Trials Group BR.21 trial showed a 2 month improvement in overall survival when added to supportive care in patients who had failed all of their previous chemotherapy options. The article also calculated how much these seemingly minor gains cost in dollar-per-survival year terms:

The investigators determined that the specific cost of erlotinib treatment was $94,638 (in 2007 Canadian dollars) per life-year gained (95% confidence interval [CI], $59,359 to $429,148)."

Clearly, if the results of this latest animal study are found to extend to human lung cancer, as well, noni leaf extract could provide an ideal alternative, and could be produced at a much lower cost (A quick internet search yielded a price of about $50 for 12 ounces).

Noni leaf, unlike conventional chemotherapy drugs, is an exceedingly complex biological material, containing hundreds of different naturally occurring, and 'intelligently interwoven' phytochemicals. The sheer complexity and density of gene- and physiology-regulating information in a natural substance like noni leaf vis-à-vis synthetically produced, mono-chemical chemotherapy drugs, is astounding. The article listed an immense, though still non-exhaustive array of biomolecules identified within noni leaf which could, together, account for the remarkable therapeutic effects the study observed:

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