Compounds in the Wild Tomatillo Weed May Combat Cancer


Three University of Kansas (KU) scientists have discovered the wild tomatillo, a weed native to North America and common throughout the Great Plains region, has cancer-fighting potential, reported

So far, the researchers have demonstrated 14 compounds found in the plant can fight numerous cancers and tumors without any apparent side effects or toxicity—namely: melanomas, thyroid cancer, head and neck squamous cell cancer, breast cancer, glioblastoma brain tumors, and certain leukemias. Other studies suggest these same molecules may combat both esophageal cancers and pancreatic cancers.

The compounds, known as withanolides, managed to significantly shrink, and in some instances completely eradicate, aggressive cancers in mice models with no noticeable ill responses.

“While our research is still in the early stages, we’re optimistic that some of these 14 molecules could lead to new plant-based drugs or dietary supplements," said Barbara Timmermann, a medicinal chemist and co-director of KU’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which examines native plants as remedies, supplements or pharmaceutical agents.

Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at KU's Kansas Biological Survey, and Timmermann's research reveals the Pueblo Indians and other indigenous peoples throughout North America ate the fruit produced by the Physalis longifolia species of wild tomatillo and its sister varieties with no known harmful effects.

Timmermann, Kindscher and Mark Cohen, a surgical oncologist and translational clinician scientist at the KU Medical Center, describe the anti-cancer compounds in the November 2011 edition of the Journal of Natural Products. Now their findings have earned them one of only 31 highly coveted presentation slots on breakthrough technologies at the University Research & Entrepreneurship Symposium on April 18 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.