London: Scientists have discovered that extracts from a plant, found in arid regions of India and Pakistan can kill cancerous cells and produces no harmful side-effects associated with chemotherapy.
Tea from the plant known as virgin`s mantle is already drunk by women in rural Pakistan who have breast cancer, the Daily Mail reported.
Researchers from Aston University, Birmingham, and Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, found that it contains potent anti-cancer agents that act singly or in combination against the proliferation of cancer cells.
Laboratory tests showed they arrested the growth of cells within five hours of application and caused them to die within 24 hours.
The plant, which has the botanical name Fagonia cretica, is found in arid, desert regions of Pakistan, India, Africa and parts of Europe.
Professor Helen Griffiths and Professor Amtul R Carmichael, who headed the study, found herbal tea made from the extract of the plant destroys cancer cells but unlike conventional chemotherapy, treatment does not damage normal breast cells, thus reducing side effects.
Reports from breast cancer sufferers in Pakistan suggested the plant extract does not trigger any serious side effects such as loss of hair, drop in blood count or diarrhoea.
The plant extract had a novel mechanism which could remedy defects in cell DNA that would normally resist tumour growth.
An impaired DNA response not only allows the cancer to flourish, it also inhibits the way chemotherapy works which reduces its effectiveness.
"A small hospital 100 miles north of Lahore in Pakistan started using the herbal tea 40 years ago to treat breast cancer patients. It appears to keep them in remission, although we can`t use the word cure at this stage," Carmichael said.
"However, they live for a long time without losing their hair or putting on a large amount of weight, or experiencing other toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy, so we are confident this extract has something to contribute," Carmichael was quoted by the paper as saying.
At present the herbal tea is being used to treat Asians but there might be different effects in Caucasian patients, she added.
The study was published in the journal PloS One.