Traditional Chinese Medicine improves radiation therapy outcomes, study suggests

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A recent study found a traditional Chinese herb, known as Shengmai Yin (SMY), can mitigate radioresistance during the treatment of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), a cancer that originates in the upper throat.

Because of its location in the nasopharynx, treating NPC can be complicated. Radiation therapy is the most common intervention for the cancer; however, patients are sometimes resistant to the therapy. The study, published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical, explored the effects of SMY on radioresistance. According to one of the study’s lead authors, Qin Fan, MD, prior investigations indicate that DNA methylation, or epigenetic change, plays a crucial role in radioresistance. He explained epigenetic changes are reversible; therefore, they can be modulated.

“Taking a cue from earlier studies,” Fan said, “we investigated if SMY can alter DNA methylation status in NPC cells and whether such changes influenced the radiosensitivity of the cells.”

Researchers began the study with an analysis of radiosensitive NPC cells, CNE-2, and radioresistant NPC cells, CNE-2R. They then compared the levels of DNA methylation in both cell lines. The CNE-2 cells were found to have lower levels of DNA methylation. Next, the scientists observed the effects of SMY on CNE-2R cells.

After SMY treatment, DNA methylation levels were restored in certain genes, including a differential gene known as Tenascin-C (TNC), which is involved tumor cell invasiveness, invasion, and migration. After studying the differences in TNC expression between CNE-2R and CNE-2, the team of researchers observed an overexpression of TNC in CNE-2R cells. They found SMY was able to mitigate that expression, reducing the production of TNC in NPC cells.

The results of this study suggest that SMY may be an effective in increasing radiosensitivity in radioresistant NPC patients, enhancing the outcomes of radiation therapy.