Research Highlights

A herbal treatment for breast cancer

Published online 2 April 2013

Biplab Das

Breast cancer ranks second as a cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. Resistance to synthetic anticancer drugs is a major problem in the treatment of this disease, resulting in a continued search for new alternatives.

A research team led by Rabah Iratni from the United Arab Emirates University, Al-Ain, has now found that the leaf extract from the marjoram herb (Origanum majorana) can inhibit the growth of cultured invasive breast cancer cells, publishing their findings in PloS ONE1.

The team used varying concentrations of O. majorana extract (OME), and observed that the higher the concentration used, the fewer cancer cells survived. OME also had a concentration-dependent effect on levels of survivin, a protein known to prevent controlled cell death. At higher concentrations, survivin levels collapsed; however, at lower concentrations, they increased, and this was accompanied by an accumulation of apoptosis-resistant cells.

Using higher concentrations of OME also almost completely depleted the mutant p53 protein present in the cancer cell line, which makes them more resistant to anticancer drugs. Finally, the higher concentrations of OME robbed the cancer cells of their ability to form a colony, one of the features that make them deadly and invasive.

"OME could be used in combination with standard breast cancer therapies, increasing their efficacy and decreasing side effects," concludes Iratni.


  1. Al Dhaheri, Y. et al. Mitotic arrest and apoptosis in breast cancer cells induced by Origanum majorana extract: upregulation of TNF-α and downregulation of survivin and mutant p53. PLoS ONE 8, e56649 (2013).  | Article | PubMed | ADS |