Cancer-fighting tea set for clinical trials in Ontario

A Calgary company is involved in a clinical trial attempting to harness the potential cancer-fighting properties of a common weed.

'Dandelion root extract has very potent anti-cancer activity,' biochemist says

George Templeton, director of operations at Calgary-based AOR Inc., holds up a flask of dandelion root extract tea that was produced in his lab. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

A Calgary company is involved in a clinical trial attempting to harness the potential cancer-fighting properties of a common weed. 

AOR Inc. is developing a specially formulated dandelion root tea that will be tested on patients in Ontario.

"Dandelion has been used medicinally for centuries," George Templeton, director of operations at AOR, told CBC News. "In the last couple decades it's been started to be used for cancer treatments, mostly just through patients self-medicating."

Rachel Jacyszyn, research associate at AOR , says it took a year and a half to come up with the right formulation for the clinical trials. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)
The Calgary company, which produces natural health products, was contracted to produce the tea after University of Windsor researchers found dandelion root showed promise in the fight against cancer. 

The two groups were connected by a non-profit organization, Mitacs, which helped fund the project. 

"We scientifically validated that dandelion root extract has very potent anti-cancer activity," said Dr. Siryaram Pandey, professor of biochemistry at the University of Windsor, According to Pandey, the tea is being developed as a therapeutic agent, not a nutritional supplement.

How the tea is made

After a year and a half of painstaking work, scientists at the Calgary lab have formulated a dandelion tea powder that is six to 10 times more potent than something available at a health food store. Dandelion root is milled, an extract is created and then freeze-dried.

The end product is a fine mustard coloured powder that patients can dissolve in hot water and drink. "We've gone through many trials to find what does work and what doesn't work," said Rachel Jacyszyn, research associate at AOR

"We finally found something that does work"

AOR is now working to produce 6,000 doses of the tea for a clinical trial at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre.

Dandelion root extract is pictured on the left. At right, the refined and freeze-dried product is ready for consumption as a tea. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)
The one-of-a-kind trial, approved by Health Canada in 2013, involves 30 patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma who have had no success with conventional therapies.

Dr. Caroline Hamm, a medical oncologist at the Windsor Cancer Centre in Windsor, Ont. who is leading the study,she's seen improvements in some patients who drink dandelion root tea purchased at health food stores,

"Most of the responses that I have seen are very short. but there's a signal there that I think is worthwhile of further investigation," she said.

Hamm expects the trials to start within the next month.

Rachel Jacyszyn, research associate at AOR, shows off the freeze-drying machine used to process the dandelion root extract. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)


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