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YOUR HEALTH: An ancient treatment helping people diagnosed with one of the deadliest of cancers

Researchers say a compound derived from a Chinese tree bark could be used to help pancreatic cancer patients.

BUFFALO, New York – Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to treat and few patients survive past five years  but researchers are finding new hope in an ancient remedy.

Ask Michael Gilkerson.  He doesn't miss a day on his treadmill.

He says it gives him strength and motivation after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than two years ago.

"I've never told my mom this but I was close to giving up."

Pancreatic cancer is one of the toughest cancers to treat.  Only six to eight percent of patients survive five years after the time of diagnosis.

"We know that pancreatic cancer is going to be the second leading cause of death in the United States within the next ten years so we're desperate for new treatments," explained clinical oncologist Dr. Christos Fountilas.

But a compound derived from Chinese tree bark could provide an answer.

It's called FL-118 and it's being developed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo.

"Our drug, either used alone or in combination with current therapies, can completely eliminate the tumor," said Oncology Associate Professor Fengzhi Li.

It's based on a substance that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and has been shown, so far, to be very tolerable and non-toxic.

"It's killing cancer cells and it's helping our treatments be more effective in killing cancer cells even if these cancer cells become resistant to treatment," explained Dr. Fountzilas.

TREATMENTS:   Besides surgery, patients can participate in chemotherapy or ablation, using extreme cold or heat to get rid of the tumors and embolization treatments which is trying to block the blood flow to the cells causing them to die.   Researchers say the use of Chinese tree bark is nontoxic and very tolerable and may be paired with current treatments to improve efficiency.   Researchers want to take the next couple of years to perform different clinical trials to make sure that it safe and that it can be added to other treatments.   In pre-trials, the drug has shown that tumors model have restored sensitivity when paired with existing treatments.

Researchers say they hope to begin clinical trials of the compound within the next year.

Michael Gilkerson, who's currently cancer free, says this new drug is providing hope.

"If just one doesn't have to go through what I went through, it's worth it."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.