(Atlanta) Aug. 5, 2003 - A magnolia tree stands on Emory's campus in Atlanta. While it's a nice tree, it wouldn't ordinarily attract much attention.
Dr. Jack Arbiser, a dermatologist, remembers when he first noticed it, "I was walking around one day kicking a magnolia cone, and I said, 'I haven't touched this one yet.'"
Like a modern day Isaac Newton, Doctor Arbiser says he often gets ideas when sitting around or walking, "I think, and maybe this sounds corny, that all plants are put by God on this planet for a reason."
Arbiser thinks some are here to be used as medicine, like the magnolia cone, for instance. In his Emory laboratory, Doctor Arbiser and his research team grind magnolia cones and make tea out of them.
The tea, when put on blood vessel cells, causes them to shrink. When those blood vessels carry the blood that feeds cancer tumors, Arbiser says, "If you can block the blood supply of tumors, you can shrink them and keep them in a dormant state indefinitely, at least in mice, and one of the things we're hoping is to accomplish this in humans."
He admits there's a lot more work to be done, but Arbiser thinks maybe the key to controlling cancer could be in his own backyard, "This doesn't mean go out and start making teas out of everything, but we think that there's a lot more there that we stumble on or pull out every day."
The same compound in the magnolia tea that Doctor Arbiser used to shrink blood vessel cells also appears in some herbal teas, but he says its too early to make the connection. It could be four or five years before the magnolia tea is tested in humans.