A compound in figs and celery can attack aggressive breast tumours caused by the HER2 protein, which is responsible for around a quarter of all breast cancer cases.
The compound, psoralen, blocks the protein's receptors that fuel the growth of tumours in breast cancer, and ovarian and gastric cancers and solid tumours.
It's already known that psoralen can fight lymphoma and skin problems such as psoriasis, especially when activated by UV light, but the latest discovery opens up new ways to treat HER2 positive breast cancer.
Researchers at Duke University said the discovery came as a complete surprise when they were carrying out laboratory tests on cancer cells. The compound blocked signals that were coming from the HER2 proteins.
And it could be that it is more effective than chemotherapy agents such as lapatinib and trastuzumab that are routinely used for HER2 cancers. The drugs can target only the HER receptors that are outside the cell, but cannot identify those inside the cell nucleus. Psoralen can also attack those in the cell, making it far more effective.
(Source: PLoS ONE, 2014; 9: e88983)