English Common Name: Century, Star Thistle
Arabic Name: قنطريون عيناتا
Centaurea is a large genus belonging to the sunflower family, Asteraceae. This family is one of the largest plant families, with a thousand genera and 15 thousand species. The Centaurea genus in particular comprises 400 to 700 species, which are distributed all over the world. They are native to Eurasia and their appearance in North America dates back to the late 19th and the early 20th century. The Latin name Centaurea has its basis in Greek mythology. One of the centaurs, Chiron, is said to have used the plant to heal war injuries and to have taught mankind about the healing powers of herbs.
Centaurea ainetensis, a species of Centaurea, is endemic to Lebanon. Its stem is short and erect and it has 1 to 2 heads, which are small, oblong, rounded at the base, and not truncated. It grows in stony, sterile, or bushy places, but not in rocky habitats. It flowers from May to June.
Its first stay in the AUB Nature Conservation Center (NCC) laboratories was around 2000 after a group of researchers and members of the center travelled through Lebanon to interview people in villages to learn about their use of medicinal plants in their everyday life. When Professor Nadine Darwiche, at that time a new faculty at AUB specializing in cancer researcher, joined the NCC in 2002, two plants were specifically promising for new anti-cancer drugs: Centaurea ainetensis and a cousin of the Asteraceae family, Achillea falcata. Both had been used for centuries in folkloric medicine for their effects as stimulants, diuretics, anti-rheumatics, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetics. NCC publications cited promising anti-skin and anti-colon cancer properties of one molecule contained in Centaurea ainetensis, Salograviolide A. This molecule, isolated in 1992, was found exclusively in the flowers of the plant research journals.
Thanks to a common interest in the medicinal potential of this molecule and to the faith in the healing powers of medicinal plants, the research on Salograviolide A gathered biologists, chemists, physicians and even doctors in Landscape design and Ecosystem. Given that excessive chronic inflammation may cause cancer, many drugs that have anti-cancer properties may also have anti-inflammatory properties and vice-versa. Therefore, Professors Nadine Darwiche, Hala Mohtasib and Marwan El-Sabban have been working closely with researchers on inflammation, Professors Rabih Talhouk and Fadia Homeidan, and a team of researchers were working on the anti-microbial properties of Salograviolide A. It also attracted the interest of numerous AUB master students for their thesis. This rich and dynamic collaboration earned them several grants to pursue their research and publications in renowned international refereed journals.
Experiments were conducted both in-vitro on mouse and human intestinal and skin cells, and in-vivo on mice. Injections of Centaurea ainetensis's crude extract led to a drastic reduction of the number of tumors. Importantly, inhibition of tumor promotion and growth was obtained with concentrations that would not significantly affect the viability of normal intestinal and skin cells. In this way, only the cancer cells were eliminated.
Three years later, the researchers of the NCC started to work in parallel on another species from the Asteraceae family, Achillea falcata. They discovered that it contained similar properties than Salograviolide A. As is the custom in research when two molecules have similar effects, researchers tried to mix them in order to use a lower concentration of each one. Last year, the result met the expectations: combining extracts from Centaurea ainetensis and Alchillea falcata have shown more powerful anti-cancer activities than the expected additive effects. Such efficiency could never be obtained by any concentration of one of them independently. This phenomenon is called synergy.
Unfortunately, Professors Darwiche and Muhtasib have temporary suspended their work after this discovery due to lack of funding.
Regular Seed Propagation