A Nigerian Molecular Biologist, Mansurah Abdulazeez, is embarking on the herculean task of finding a permanent cure for cancer.
Abdulazeez’s ambitious visionary research into African plants to develop drugs for the dreaded disease comes at a time when the global cancer burden is estimated to have risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The number is expected to rise to close to 30 million new cases by 2040 if drastic measures and efforts at getting a permanent cure are not sought after.
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Speaking to Nature, a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology, Abdulazeez says her effort aims at identifying potent, safe and effective anticancer agents from Nigerian plants and that they had already “screened and confirmed” the cytotoxic activities of extracts of the drumstick (Moringa oleifera) and soursop (Annona muricata) trees as well as the native Nigerian shrub Peristrophe bicalyculata on cervical carcinoma and fetal lung carcinoma cell lines.
“We also studied what anticancer mechanisms these plants exhibit. We found that these plants act in the body through a variety of mechanisms — there is no single mode of action for all plants,” Abdulazeez adds.
Abdulazeez says she decided to embark on this project because, “it is well documented that these plants have an enormous, largely unstudied anticancer potential. Research into herbs such as Guiera senegalensis, which is used by traditional African healers and known as ‘Sabara’ by locals, has led to the discovery of several anticancer drugs. In my view, this demonstrates how the study of African plants can result in the development of valuable drugs.
The increasing cancer burden is due to several factors, including population growth and ageing as well as the changing prevalence of certain causes of cancer linked to social and economic development, the IARC says and that is particularly true in rapidly growing economies, where a shift is observed from cancers related to poverty and infections to cancers associated with lifestyles more typical of industrialized countries.
One in five men and one in six women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in eight men and one in 11 women die from the disease. Worldwide, the total number of people who are alive within 5 years of a cancer diagnosis, called the 5-year prevalence, is estimated to be 43.8 million.
Global patterns show that for men and women combined, nearly half of the new cases and more than half of the cancer deaths worldwide in 2018 are estimated to occur in Asia, in part because the region has nearly 60% of the global population.
Europe accounts for 23.4% of the global cancer cases and 20.3% of the cancer deaths, although it has only 9.0% of the global population. The Americas have 13.3% of the global population and account for 21.0% of incidence and 14.4% of mortality worldwide. In contrast to other world regions, the proportions of cancer deaths in Asia and in Africa (57.3% and 7.3%, respectively) are higher than the proportions of incident cases (48.4% and 5.8%, respectively), because these regions have a higher frequency of certain cancer types associated with poorer prognosis and higher mortality rates, in addition to limited access to timely diagnosis and treatment in many countries.
According to The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), over 7 million people die from cancer, and more than 11 million new cases are diagnosed worldwide, tobacco kills more than 5 million people, of whom 1.5 million die of lung cancer and more than 160,000 cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed and at least 90,000 children die of cancer every year.
In 2020, if current trends continue, new cases of cancer will increase to 16 million per year and more than 10 million people will die, the UICC warns.