Ocular cancer, while representing only 3% to 5% of all malignancies, can be deadly in up to half of patients diagnosed with it.1 But researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis hope to change those statistics—with a plant-based compound.1,2 After more than a decade of research into the signaling molecules that are overactive in uveal melanoma, known as G-alpha(q), the discovery is a welcome one.1 The researchers exposed lab-grown human melanoma cells to a natural compound present in the primrose plant family, and found it traps G-alpha(q) in its inactive state, effectively halting tumor growth.1,2

The research showed the cancer-causing form of G-alpha(q) “doesn’t have to be turned off by force,” said study first author Michael D. Onken, PhD in a press release. “It just turns itself off every now and then on its own” and then it can be “locked down [with the primrose derivative], and that’s enough to shut down tumor cell growth.”1

The team also realized the compound reverted a subset of melanoma cells back to a state that resembles normal pigmented cells.1,2

Although an exciting discovery, the compound has a long road of research ahead before it can be considered as a potential treatment for humans. The next step is designing and executing studies using mouse models.1,2

1. Strait JE. Scientists identify weak point in deadly eye melanoma. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/scientists-identify-weak-point-in-deadly-eye-melanoma. September 4, 2018. Accessed September 13, 2018.

2. Onken MD, Makepeace CM, Kaltenbronn KM, et al. Targeting nucleotide exchange to inhibit constitutively active G protein α subunits in cancer cells. Science Signaling. 2018;11(546):eaao6852.