BLACKSBURG, VA. — John Robertson, VMD, MS, PhD, director of the University of Virginia-Maryland Center for Comparative Oncology, is experimenting
with frankincense oil as a possible treatment for malignant melanoma in horses.
Robertson shared his study during a recent regional meeting of the American Cancer Society in Roanoke, Va. About 54,000 human
cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
The risk factors for malignant melanoma in people and horses are very similar, Robertson says. In people, they include pale
complexion and hair, exposure to excessive sunlight, sunburns and aging. Horses at risk also have a pale coat of grey to white,
and there seems to be a correlation to aging, which could be a result of chronic exposure to sunlight, he says. In each, the
disease is an infiltrated pigmented malignancy that is difficult to manage. Conventional therapies include chemotherapy, radiation,
immunotherapy and surgery.
For the Record
Frankincense oil, a fragrant botanical oil distillate made from fermented plants, contains hundreds of constituents, including
boswellic acid, a component that is known to have anti-neoplastic properties. Scientists have demonstrated that the oil has
potent anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor properties when evaluated in tissue culture with tumors, such as astrocytomas,
melanomas and fibrosarcomas. And it appears to have fairly selective anti-tumor activity and does not appear to disrupt normal
cells, he says. But much about how it affects actual cancer patients is unknown.
"I think this research on frankincense oil suggests that this ancient medicine may have significant modern uses for chemotherapy
of non-resectable malignancies," Robertson says. "This research showed that equine melanomas respond to this therapy."
An experimental protocol involving an 11-year-old Thoroughbred named Chili, diagnosed with multi-centric malignant melanoma
at age 7, administered daily injections of medicinal-grade, sterile frankincense oil directly into his tumors and the application
of oil on topical tumors, while Chili's comfort and well-being was maintained through pain and nutritional management, including
copious amounts of peeled baby carrots and peppermints.
The lesions were observed, measured, photographed and periodically biopsied, Robertson says. Those tumor biopsies demonstrated
that some small tumor cells were destroyed by the treatment and those treated topically were reduced in size. But Chili died
in October 2005 as a result of the progressive and relentless growth of the non-treated tumors.
Information gleaned from this Phase I-II National Cancer Institute clinical trial has supported the development of three new
grant applications and helped in the treatment of five additional horses, Robertson says.
The disease often affects horses with the development of lesions on the lips, neck and perineum.