The medicinal value of neem is already well pronounced. Widely used as an insecticide and germicide, the plant can also help fight cancer.

Researchers at the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) claim to have discovered a purified protein from neem leaves that can inhibit the growth of tumour cells.

While other therapies target the cancer cells directly, the neem protein, called the Neem Leaf Glycoprotein or NLGP, stimulates the immune cells present within the tumour and also in the peripheral system like blood.

“In our recent study we have seen that NLGP has the potency to normalize tumour micro-environment consisting of tumour cells and tumour associated non-transformed cells that help in tumour progression. Basically, NLGP modulates the tumour microenvironment in such a way that it restricts further growth of the tumour,” marked Rathindranath Baral, head of the department of immunoregulation and immunodiagnostics at the CNCI.

The tumour microenvironment (TME) is packed both with immune cells that infiltrate the tumour site from the bloodstream and the lethal cells like the fibroblast and endothelial cells that activate and promote the growth of tumour cells.

The immune cells form a group of cancer-killing cells called CD8+T cells.

Once the TME turns to the tumour-directed hostile state, NLGP helps the boost the quantum of T cells, thereby aiding in restriction of the cancer. NLGP also shields the T cells from turning into a non-reactive state.

Researchers found that when tumour-bearing mice were treated with NLGP, the T cells exhibited a greater power to destroy the cancer cells, compared to the T-cells in mice that were not treated with NLGP.

“Examination of non-toxic NLGP on human cancer patients is awaited. But if we get clearance to treat cancer patients with NLGP, intramuscular injection might be an effective route,” Baral said.

“Initial results are very encouraging. It has been found that it can arrest the progress of the tumour cell growth, particularly without any major or serious adverse event.

“However, we have to take up this molecule with different regulatory bodies, particularly with the Drug Controller General of India, for their approval…Once it is approved, we can take up this in human trial,” Jaydip Biswas, director at the CNCI said.

The findings of the study are reported in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

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