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A report released today by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has highlighted the positive role tea tree oil (TTO) may play in the future in treating people with skin cancer.The identification of anti-cancer activity of TTO is an important step in the process to identify, test and implement effective treatments for skin cancer.
"This research is encouraging, as researchers were able to successfully demonstrate a way to inhibit tumour growth in mice and induce tumour regression," Dr Roslyn Prinsley, General Manager of RIRDC's New Rural Industries said.
As part of the study, researchers from the University of Western Australia examined the efficacy of a topical TTO formulation as a potential anti-tumor agent using preclinical mouse cancer models.
Researchers measured changes in solid tumours grown under the skin in mice which were treated topically by rubbing the area with a TTO formulation.
Mice were treated for four days with the TTO formulation, with researchers monitoring the rate at which tumours grew, or started to subside.
Researchers found that the TTO formulation significantly inhibited the growth of cancerous tumours in mice and also regressed the tumours during and after the treatment period for a time. Only minor side effects (which appear to be important for topical chemotherapies to work effectively) were observed in the form of skin irritation which was temporary and cleared after a few days.
According to the report's co-author, Dr Sara Greay from The University of Western Australia, the findings are significant as the tumours being studied are highly aggressive.
"We've known for a long time that tea tree oil has recognised health benefits, particularly its role in combating bacteria, fungi, and viruses" Dr Greay said.
"Although we and others have reported anti-cancer activity of tea tree oil against cells in vitro, no study has ever reported anti-tumour efficacy of tea tree oil in a preclinical cancer setting.
"We believe the formulation is crucial to prevent the evaporation and increase the penetration of tea tree oil through the skin
"So what this new research tells us is that tea tree oil, in the right formulation may also play a role as a clinically effective topical treatment for skin cancer in humans.
"If topical TTO can slow down aggressive solid tumours grown under the skin in mice, then its potential to be effective against cancers that grow within the skin is enormous. The potential next step is a clinical trial to test TTO formulations on people with precancerous lesions, with the aim of preventing the development of skin cancer," Dr Greay said.
Dr Prinsley said that if that were the case, aside from the health benefits, it would be major step forward for Australia's TTO industry in terms of its profile and financial viability.
Anti cancer activity of tea tree oil was funded by RIRDC and industry revenue from Novasel Pty Ltd. The report is available on the RIRDC website www.rirdc.gov.au and can also be downloaded from the link below.
Media enquiries: Janine MacDonald - University of Western Australia media manager - 08 6488 5563 or 0432 637 716