Chewing 'paan' or betel leaf could help fight a form of bone marrow cancer, a group of Indian researchers say.

A molecule derived from betel leaf may be beneficial to patients suffering from a cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells and the body refuses to respond to common drugs, said a study by scientists in Kolkata and Mumbai.

An alcoholic extract of the betel leaves helps patients suffering from chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) -- the most common form of leukaemia in adults in India -- holding out hope of improved treatment.

The research was carried out by the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), the Institute of Haematology and Transfusion Medicine, Kolkata, and Piramal Life Sciences, Mumbai.

"We have conducted a study and seen that the compound hydroxychavicol (HCH) is the major component of the alcoholic extract of the betel leaves and it might contribute, at least in part, to the observed anti-CML activity of the leaf extract," Santu Bandyopadhyay of the department of Cancer Biology and Inflammatory Disorders at IICB, an institute under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, told IANS.

The research was based on a 2011 report in journal Frontiers in Bioscience (Elite Edition).

According to the study, published this year in the Cancer Science journal - the official journal of the Japanese Cancer Association - HCH and its analogues not only induced killing of the cancerous CML cells but also led to the death of the drug-resistant cancer cells with minimal harm to normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC).

PBMC are blood cells that are an important component of the immune system.

CML is principally an adult disease with a yearly incidence of one in 100,000 in India. Men are affected more often than women. The slow-progressing blood and bone marrow disease usually occurs during or after the middle age, and rarely occurs in children.

The leukaemia cells can build up in the blood and bone marrow. So there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. When this happens, infection, anaemia or easy bleeding may occur.

So far, the drug imatinib has been used successfully to treat CML, but mutations have made the leukaemic cells unresponsive to the medicine.

None of the available approved drugs has been effective in dodging the responsible mutation - called T315I.

According to the report in Frontiers in Bioscience (Elite Edition), the alcoholic extract of paan leaves causes the imatinib-resistant cells to undergo a self-destructive process called apoptosis.

The extract also shows activity against T315I mutation, the report said.

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