(EurekAlert!) Cushing Disease, not to be confused with Cushing's Syndrome, is caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland in the brain. The tumour secrets increased amounts of the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) followed by cortisol release from the adrenal glands leading to rapid weight gain, elevated blood pressure and muscular weakness. Patients are prone to osteoporosis, infections and may show cognitive dysfunction or even depression. In 80 to 85 % of the patients the tumour can be removed by uncomfortable brain surgery. For inoperable cases, there is currently only one targeted therapy approved which unfortunately causes intense side effects such as hyperglycemia in more than 20 % of the patients.
German scientists now discovered in cell cultures, animal models and human tumour tissue that a harmless plant extract can be applied to treat Cushing Disease. "Silibinin is the major active constituent of milk thistle seeds. It has an outstanding safety profile in humans and is already used for the treatment of liver disease and poisoning," explains Marcelo Paez-Pereda, leading scientist of the current study published in the renowned scientific journal Nature Medicine. After silibinin treatment, tumour cells resumed normal ACTH production, tumour growth slowed down and symptoms of Cushing Disease disappeared in mice.