Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), in collaboration with Cornell University, have developed a novel targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) that uses a specially-designed nano-carrier to deliver the Chinese medicine compound gambogic acid (GA). The invention enhances the anti-cancer effect of GA and reduces its damage to off-target organs. The invention has the potential to become a more effective therapeutic option for TNBC.

The study was supported by the Vincent and Lily Woo Foundation, and the research findings have been published in the international medical journal Frontiers in Oncology.

GA as a breast cancer treatment and its limitations

TNBC accounts for 10-24% of all breast cancer cases and it also grows and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. There are limited treatment options for TNBC and it has a high risk of recurrence and metastasis. In the advanced stage of the disease, the five-year relative survival rate is only about 12%.

GA is a herbal compound isolated from a dry, brownish resin called gamboge, which is derived from Garcinia hanburyi, a plant with a long history of medicinal use in Southeast Asia. Previous studies have shown that GA can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. However, its clinical application is limited by the fact that it is rapidly eliminated from the circulation system and has poor water solubility, which makes it difficult for GA to reach the cancer cells. Furthermore, high dosages of GA can cause damage to off-target organs due to its toxicity.

Nano-carrier increases treatment efficacy of GA

In the search for a more effective treatment protocol for TNBC when compared to existing options, Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, Director and Tsang Shiu Tim Endowed Professor in Chinese Medicine Clinical Studies of the Clinical Division of HKBU’s School of Chinese Medicine (SCM) and Dr Kwan Hiu-yee, Assistant Professor of the Teaching and Research Division of SCM, together with the research team of Professor Chu Chih-Chang at Cornell University, designed a novel nano-carrier to enhance GA’s efficacy as a TNBC treatment and reduce its off-target toxicity.