Essential oil producing UK crops could help treat lymphoma according to ‘promising’ research

Farmers could be growing more high value crops for pharmaceuticals in the UK if new research into treating an aggressive form of lymphoma proves successful.

The project, based at University of Plymouth’s Derriford Research Facility, has found that specific essential oils are inhibiting cancer cell growth in Mantle Cell lymphoma.

“Mantle Cell lymphoma has a survival rate of just three to five years,” explained project leader Dr Lynn McCallum, associate professor of haematology at Plymouth University. “No new biomedical compounds are helping to prolong patient survival, but plants have a better prevalence of producing the correct structure of bioactive compounds, and we’ve found some essential oils that have a growth inhibitory effect.”

Ginium is now setting up a vertical growing unit at Cornish Essential Oils’ farm near Callington, where the two firms will compare the production of crops in a conventional polytunnel, environmentally managed polytunnel and environmentally managed shipping container, with the aim of manipulating the levels of essential oils to benefit the lymphoma research, while also adding value to the crop.

Growing crops inside means the producer can have seven to eight growing cycles a year, in a pest-free environment and with the ability to manipulate the chemical composition of the plant.

The firm already has a market for its lavender for the next five years – and if the lymphoma research proves successful then demand is only likely to grow. “We are creating a toolbox of technology that will make vertical growing more accessible,” explains George Journeaux, director of Ginium. “The plug and play technology is very easy to use and lower cost than traditional vertical growing systems. We’re taking vertical farming away from being niche to becoming more commercial.”

Marwa Jbara, research assistant at the Plant Factory said: “Herbal medicines have been used for generations, but the chemical composition is defined by local environmental conditions – by growing in a controlled environment we can produce very high value chemicals.

“We need to identify which receptor pathways the compounds are working on, and then we can move to clinical trials and optimise the therapeutic window in which to use them.

“Commercial use is still a long way off, but because Mantle Cell lymphoma is very aggressive and untreatable, anything which is genuinely useful will be pushed forward quite quickly, as there are no other options.”

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