Could daffodils become a weapon in the fight against cancer?

May 22nd 2018

Could daffodils soon help cure cancer? A new study by researchers at the Biopark explores this possibility.

Daffodils have been used in folk medicine for centuries. A laboratory studying the molecular biology of RNA(1) has taken a closer look at a compound present in the flower, and at its effects on cancer cells.

Targeting ribosomes

Led by Denis Lafontaine, the researchers have extracted a natural cancer-fighting compound from daffodils (Amarylidaceae Narcissus): the molecule belongs to the alkaloid family and is called haemanthamine. They have then determined that the molecule attaches itself to the ribosome, a ‘nanomachine’ responsible for building proteins inside our cells. In doing so, haemanthamine prevents the ribosome from making more proteins, thus slowing down the growth of cancer cells.

Cancer cells killed by stress

But it doesn't stop there: the researchers have also found that haemanthamine inhibits the production of ribosomes themselves. This results in stress inside the nucleolus, which is where our cells ‘manufacture’ ribosomes. In a domino effect, nucleolar stress produces a cascade of reactions that end with the cancer cells being destroyed.

Towards a new treatment?

The study was published in science journal Structure (Cell Press) and provides the first molecular explanation of the daffodil's cancer-fighting properties, after centuries of daffodils being used in folk medicine. In the near future, Denis Lafontaine's research team will test the effect of 4 alkaloids from this flower on the ribosome's biogenesis and operation. Their goal will be to quickly identify the most promising chemical structure that can then be used in cancer therapy.

(1) This laboratory is part of the Biopark's Institute of Molecular Biology and Medicine (IBMM).