Squamous cell lung cancer makes up about 40%-50% of all non-small cell lung cancer cases, which is a huge threat to human health. The current chemotherapy causes a series of toxic side effects, prompting scientist to look for new therapeutic agents with low toxicity towards normal cells.
A recent study, published in the journal Royal Society Chemistry, revealed that Rk1, an active compound in ginseng, has demonstrated therapeutic potential in the treatment of squamous cell lung cancer.
Rk1 is one of the ginseng saponins, called ginsenosides that have shown a range of pharmacological properties in relation to antioxidation, antiinflammation, immunomodulation and antineoplastic, etc. The magical healing power of ginseng is attributed to the presence of ginsenosides.
Nowadays, about 120 kinds of ginsenosides have been extracted and identified, and the most well-known ones include Rb1, Rh2, Rg3.
Ginsenoside Rk1 is rare ginsenoside unique in red ginseng. Compared to prototype ginsenosides naturally existing in ginseng, rare ginsenosides like Rk1, obtained through preparation and metabolism, usually have stronger medicinal activities.
Researchers aimed to examine the therapeutic potential of ginsenoside Rk1 in lung squamous cell carcinoma through lab experiments. They confirmed the antitumor activity of ginsenosides Rk1 and found ginsenoside Rk1 capable of inhibiting cell proliferation and promoting apoptosis in lung squamous cell carcinoma.
Additionally, researchers tested the effects of ginsenoside Rk1 in mice inoculated with human lung cancer cells SK-MES-1. Mice treated with ginsenoside Rk1 showed a significant tumor inhibition compared to the control group receiving saline solutions. Moreover, a more exciting finding was that close tumor-inhibitory effects were observed in the ginsenoside Rk1-treated group and the Gefitinib-treated group.
Gefitinib is a common chemotherapy drug currently used for squamous cell lung cancer, and experiment results indicate the potential of ginsenoside Rk1 as an antitumor agent against squamous cell lung cancer.
More interestingly, ginsenoside Rk1 seemed no toxic side effects. After 21 days, the ginsenoside Rk1 treated group showed weight gain while the Gefitinib treated group had weight loss.
The finding that ginsenoside Rk1 had no toxic side effects is not supervising, given that low toxicity is always considered a great advantage for natural medicines, which are famous for fewer side effects than existing chemotherapy drugs.
The study is the first to illustrate the anticancer effects of ginsenoside Rk1 on lung squamous cell carcinoma. It shows the therapeutic potential of ginsenoside Rk1 in treating squamous cell lung cancer, but its effects in human haven’t been confirmed, and clinical studies are needed in the coming future.
An, Xining & Fu, Rongzhan & Ma, Pei & Ma, Xiaoxuan & Fan, Daidi. (2019). Ginsenoside Rk1 inhibits cell proliferation and promotes apoptosis in lung squamous cell carcinoma by calcium signaling pathway. RSC Advances. 9. 25107-25118. 10.1039/C9RA05037J.