Researchers in Windsor, Ont., have received an additional $157,000 grant for a total of $217,000 to study how effective dandelion root extract is in fighting cancer.
Siyaram Pandey, a biochemist at the University of Windsor, has been studying the anti-cancer potential of dandelion root extract for almost two years.
His team’s first phase of research showed that dandelion root extract forced a very aggressive and drug-resistant type of blood cancer cell, known as chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia, to essentially commit suicide.
Researchers then discovered that repeated treatment with low dose dandelion root extract was effective in killing most of the cancerous cells.
Those initial findings landed the research team a $60,000 grant from Seeds4Hope, which provides money for local cancer research.
Pandey then applied for continued funding from the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation. That $157,000 came through earlier this week bringing the total to $217,000.
Researcher was skeptical at first
Pandey admits he was skeptical when he was first approached by local oncologist, Dr. Caroline Hamm, who was curious about cancer patients who had been drinking dandelion tea and seemed to be getting better.
"To be honest I was very pessimistic," Pandey said in a statement. "She said it could be coincidental but it couldn’t hurt to see if there is anything."
Hamm was convinced that the weed contains an active ingredient, but warned earlier this year that "it can harm as well as benefit."
She told CBC News in February that taking dandelion extract tea could interfere with regular chemotherapy, and she urged patients not to mix the natural remedy with other cancer drugs without speaking to a doctor first.
Pandey conducted a literature review and could only find one journal article suggesting dandelions may have cancer-killing properties. But he and his team of graduate students collected a bunch of the weeds anyway, ground them up with a mixture of water in a food processor and developed a simple formula they could experiment with.
They tested the formula on several lines of commercially available leukemia cells and much to their surprise, found that the formula caused those cells to kill themselves, a process called apoptosis.
"It was startling, but it was not that startling until we saw that it was non-toxic to the normal cells," he said.
John DiCarlo, 72, was admitted to hospital three years ago with leukemia. Even after aggressive treatment, he was sent home to put his affairs in order with his wife and four children.
The cancer clinic suggested he try the tea. Four months later, he returned to the clinic in remission. He has been cancer free for three years.
He said his doctor credits the dandelions.
"He said, 'You are doing pretty good, you aren't a sick man anymore'," DiCarlo told CBC News in February.
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