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Sep 25, 2014 07:31 AM EDT

Chokeberry, a wild berry native to North America, has been found to strengthen the effectiveness of the commonly used chemotherapy drug to treat pancreatic cancer, according to a University of Southampton study.

Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) grows on the eastern side of North America in wetlands and swamp areas. The nutraceutical is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and various polyphenols-compounds that are known to clear away the harmful by-products of normal cell activity.

"The promising results seen are encouraging and suggest that these polyphenols have great therapeutic potential not only for brain tumours but pancreatic cancer as well," Dr Harcharan Rooprai, King's College Hospital, said.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease as less than 5 percent of the patients survive five years after their diagnosis.

For the study, the researchers conducted experiments on well-known line of pancreatic cancer cells (AsPC-1) in the laboratory to determine its reaction to treatments involving chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, chokeberry extract, and in combination of both.

The researchers found that 48 hours of chokeberry extract treatment of pancreatic cancer cells triggered cell death at 1 ug/ml.

"These are very exciting results. The low doses of the extract greatly boosted the effectiveness of gemcitabine, when the two were combined. In addition, we found that lower doses of the conventional drug were needed, suggesting either that the compounds work together synergistically, or that the extract exerts a "supra-additive" effect. This could change the way we deal with hard to treat cancers in the future," Bashir Lwaleed said in a press release.

The finding is published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

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