Chinese herbal treatment shows signs of effectiveness in bone marrow recovery

Jianyu Rao, MD
Jianyu Rao, MD


UCLA researchers have found that a Chinese herbal regimen called TSY-1 (Tianshengyuan-1) increased telomerase activity in normal blood cells but decreased it in cancer cells. Telomerase is an enzyme responsible for the production of telomeres, which play an important role in the regulation of normal cell division. These results indicate that telomerase-based treatments may play an important role in treating both blood cell deficiency and cancer.


More than 80 percent of cancers have increased telomerase activity, and other medical conditions are also associated with decreased or abnormal telomerase function. The ability to increase or decrease telomerase activity has important implications for treating cancers in which insufficient numbers of blood cells are produced. When a person’s bone marrow is unable to keep up with the need for healthy blood cells, bone marrow failure is triggered. Bone marrow failure affects about seven in 100,000 people annually.

TSY-1 has been used in China for many years to treat aplastic anemia, a condition in which the body stops producing enough new blood cells and myelodysplastic syndrome or preleukemia; both are associated with telomerase abnormality.


The five-year study, led by UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member Dr. Jianyu Rao, measured the ability of TSY-1 to affect telomerase activity in cancer cells lines, including one known as HL-60, as well as normal peripheral blood mononuclear and hematopoietic stem cells. Rao’s team used various approaches, including assays of telomerase activity, measurement of cell growth, and gene expression profiling of TSY-1 treated cells, to determine how it acts. The results showed that the target of TSY-1 activity is the TERT gene. TERT is the major regulatory component of telomerase activity.


The findings provide the foundation and support for further clinical studies to demonstrate the clinical benefit of this treatment for cancer and blood cell deficiencies.


In addition to Rao, senior author of the study and professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Weibo Yu is first author of the study and a research scholar and post-doctoral fellow at UCLA. Other co-authors of the study include: Dr. Gang Zeng, UCLA associate professor in the department of urology and Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang, professor in the department of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.


The study is published online today in the journal OncoTarget.


The research was supported by Beijing Boyuantaihe Biological Technology Co., Ltd.