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8th January 2010, 4:20pm
Examining the use of herbal medicines in cancer treatment
Joanna North, second left, has won the 1,000 Angela Lippiatt Award The potential for herbal medicines to interact with chemotherapeutic drugs given to cancer patients will be placed under the microscope by a University of Lincoln researcher.

Joanna North, a postgraduate student in the University's School of Natural and Applied Sciences, has won the 1,000 Angela Lippiatt Award to investigate microbiological interactions between herbal medicines and cancer drugs.

The subject of cancer treatment is close to Joanna's heart her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago.

It was this life-changing news that inspired the former air traffic controller to enter higher education for the first time enrolling on Lincoln's BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine programme in 2006 to learn more about the potential for herbal treatments to help cancer sufferers.

Having graduated this summer and qualified as a medical herbalist, Joanna (51) is learning a new discipline by studying for an MSc by Research in the School of Natural and Applied Sciences.

Her ambition is to gather microbiological evidence in the laboratory, which could be used to assess scientifically the effects both positive and negative herbal medicines might have on cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

"I will be using a cancer drug called doxorubicin, which has antibiotic properties, and looking at its interactions with various herbs available in the shops and from experienced herbalists," said Joanna, who lives near Horncastle in Lincolnshire.
"Both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer can produce side effects including depression and nausea. There are many herbs than can help address the side effects and there are herbal medicine practitioners with a lot of experience in this field. Some have been doing this for years and have numerous case histories from cancer patients. I want to dip into that knowledge and will be contacting these practitioners as part of my research.
"My aim is to cross that barrier between complementary medicine and mainstream science and gather evidence that could be accepted by oncologists and be of use to practitioners for the benefit of patients."

Dr Ron Dixon, Head of Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Lincoln and Joanna's supervisor said: "The project is novel and timely and addresses a neglected aspect of cancer treatment. The research focuses on the scientific investigation of possible interactions between herbal medicines and orthodox cancer treatment. This screening approach for herbal extracts to model interactions with the anti-cancer agent doxorubicin utilises a little recognised aspect of the drug and is highly likely to produce interesting and useful results. The likely outcomes will have significant impact on the advisability of using herbal preparations by cancer patients in conjunction with their chemotherapy."

The Angela Lippiatt Award was launched in 2008 by David Lippiatt, former Head of Teaching and Learning Development at the University of Lincoln, in memory of his wife Angela, who died the previous year from breast cancer at the age of 44.

The aim of the 1,000 award, which is open to all University of Lincoln students, is to support research which could add to understanding of the causes, treatment or palliative care of breast cancer patients.

Last year's inaugural award winner was Paige Sheffield White, whose research explored whether meditation techniques from tai chi and qi gong could benefit cancer patients receiving palliative care. A paper on her findings is due to be published in an international journal in spring 2010.

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