Can a Drug Derived from Magnolia Plants Impact Leukemia?

Mar. 2, 2022

A cancer scientist, a chemist, and a biomedical engineer at the University of Rochester and its Wilmot Cancer Institute discovered a potential new drug and a new way to deliver it directly to acute myeloid leukemia cells.

The investigational drug is derived from plants in the magnolia family. Known as micheliolide, it has been studied for years because of its anti-cancer activity. But the Rochester trio invented a new synthetic version of the agent with more stability, and repackaged it using nanoparticles designed to swiftly send the drug to the bone marrow where leukemia hides and blooms.

Their paper, in the journal Advanced Therapeutics, describes progress to selectively destroy the stem cells at the root of acute leukemia, a disease with a generally low survival rate. 

For a more thorough look at their work and how drug analogs move through technology and toward patient care, please click here.

Scientists Rudy Fasan, Danielle Benoit, and Ben Frisch, holding glass beakers and flasks in a lab
Left to right: Rudy Fasan, Danielle Benoit, and Ben Frisch, working as a cross-campus research team.

The team includes Rudi Fasan, Ph.D., the Andrew S. Kende Professor of Chemistry at the UR; Danielle Benoit, Ph.D., professor of Biomedical Engineering; and Ben Frisch, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Biomedical Engineering. The trio launched their project in 2017, aided by University of Rochester seed funding. The project was also supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, a UR Clinical Translational Science Award, and a Drug Discovery Grant.

Frisch, whose lab is at Wilmot, has been testing the investigational drug’s potency and how well the nanoparticles navigate the bone marrow in mice. Further research is needed before the system can be evaluated in human clinical trials, researchers said. 

Nanotechnology, a growing field, provides an alternate way to carry medical therapies in the body to its intended cell targets. For example, nanoparticles are used in the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 and are believed to have promise in many areas of medicine.