Could Crocuses Lead to the Next Big Innovation in Cancer Treatments?

Cancer researchers have discovered a surprising new possibility for treating cancerous tumors, the Autumn Crocus (also known as Meadow Saffron). Many of us are familiar with the Crocus. It’s a bright purple, yellow or white, flower that pops up on lawns and in parks to herald the beginning of spring. They normally bloom between mid-March and the beginning of May, but the Autumn Crocus is a particular variety of Crocus native to England that, unlike its cousins, blooms in the fall.

The reason for all this buzz about a little flower is because Crocuses contain high amounts of a substance called Colchicine. In its natural form Colchicine is extremely poisonous which makes ingesting the plant fatal. In the past it was used in small quantities to treat gout and inflammation. Colchicine works like arsenic, which interrupts cell division. This stops cell growth dead in its tracks. Researchers have been tweaking Colchicine to make it less toxic and more suitable for clinical use. The hope is to inject it directly into cancerous tumors to keep them from growing while simultaneously keeping it from spreading outside the tumor to healthy tissue.

During clinical research UV-Vis spectrophotometry was used to measure the concentration of Colchicine in a variety of Crocus plants to determine which plants had the strongest concentrations of this molecule. Once that was established it was used again to determine which concentrations of Colchicine had the fastest absorption rates. In doing this it enabled researchers to quantify the effectiveness of this substance and ready it for more strenuous clinical trials. Since this is a natural substance the hope is to find effective alternatives to Chemo that have few or no side effects.

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