For centuries, medicinal plants and natural herbs have been used as remedies for a variety of ailments. In China, barbed skullcap, also known as Scutellaria barbata, has been employed in the treatment of maladies such as hepatitis, osteomyelitis, gynecological issues, and inflammation. In addition, studies have shown that extracts from barbed skullcap may inhibit the growth of many human cancer cells, including breast, lung, and digestive cancer, as well as chorioepithelioma and hepatoma. Although the reason Scutellaria barbata prevents cancer growth has yet to be discovered, current research teams are attempting to reveal the scientific mechanism for this traditional treatment.

A medical research group from Xi’an Jiaotong University has been examining the growth-stultifying effects of barbed skullcap for some time. Led by Dr. Zhi-Jun Dai, the group ran a series of tests on laboratory mice with liver cancer, which revealed how the traditional plant works on cancer cell line H22. The initial study showed that barbed skullcap decreased cell multiplication during specific stages of the cell cycle, rendering its effectiveness time dependent. However, further studies indicated that barbed skullcap may also have a positive effect on apoptosis, or death, of cancer cells.

A separate study by Dr. Brian Wong of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, also indicated decreases in tumor growth in mice with prostate cancer treated with barbed skullcap. Researchers hope that the extract will have a similar effect on humans. Presently, clinical trials are being held to test the efficacy and toxicity of the herb on a variety of cancers. In China, barbed skullcap is used to brew a traditional tea, yet research has shown that excess doses of the extract may have adverse effects on the liver.

In recent years, side effects resulting from chemotherapy and other conventional medicine have made herbal treatments highly attractive. Although the final verdict from these studies is pending, early research has provided promising results that may offer additional treatment options for patients suffering from cancer. Given the diversity of diseases and cancers that barbed skullcap is said to treat, the herb may provide a natural and safer way to suppress the proliferation of abnormal cells.


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