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Breakthrough: Researchers synthetically produce cancer cure

By Gilina Voon Nov. 10, 2022

Jane Hong Art

Stanford researchers recently succeeded in synthesizing EBC-46—also known as tigilanol tiglate—a drug that can treat cancer. The compound activates the protein kinase C (PKC) once it enters a cancer cell, promoting an immune response that breaks tumors’ blood vessels and effectively kills them.

EBC-46 originally caught the attention of scientists when it revealed itself as an anti-tumor agent during a drug screening process conducted by Australian company QBiotics. However, harvesting the drug for cancer-treating purposes proved difficult due to geographical factors. EBC-46 is found in the seeds of the blushwood tree, which is difficult to plant outside its natural habitat of the Northeast Australian rainforest. Stanford News explains that blushwood trees only grow in high altitudes, are vulnerable to foreign pathogens and require specific pollinators like pigeons and doves.

As a result, scientists concluded that synthesizing EBC-46 was the best way to ensure sustainable and large-scale production of the drug. Initially, researchers were unable to synthetically produce it in a laboratory due to its complex structure—but recent research from Stanford has overcome this roadblock.

Paul Wender, a professor in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, explains that a plant-derived compound called phorbol was chosen as the starting point for the synthesis of EBC-46 due to its inexpensiveness and abundance in nature. Phorbol is found in the seeds of the purging croton herb, which Stanford researchers ground up and purified with a chemical solvent to extract a phorbol-rich oil. They then used instrumentation including microscopy, mass spectrometry and computer modeling to discover how to add extra oxygen atoms, which enables the activation of PKC and begin killing cancer cells, to the oil compound.

Jane Hong Art

This process successfully synthesized EBC-46 in just 12 steps and its analogs in four to six steps. Researchers hypothesize the analogs can be used to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

“Since this drug has the potential to treat more than one disease, it can benefit a wide range of people who suffer from a variety of diseases,” Freshman Mihika Moghe said.

The drugs’ variants are already being used in medicine. In 2020, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency approved Stelfonta, an EBC-46 based medication commonly used to treat cancer—specifically dogs’ skin tumors. The European Medicines Agency describes how in a certain experiment, 88% of dogs with cancer were cured upon two doses of the drug, prompting researchers to begin clinical trials of Stelfonta for human skin and tissue cancers.

Jane Hong Art

QBiotics states that EBC-46 trials in humans have so far been successful. In a study of 22 patients with skin cancer, 18% had their tumors completely destroyed and 24% of the patients displayed partial tumor shrinkage upon treatment with EBC-46.

Optimistic about its medicinal capabilities, scientists plan to continue EBC-46 trials in humans. With more research underway, EBC-46 may be synthetically produced on a commercial scale in the future, revolutionizing the treatment of various diseases.


About the Contributors

Gilina Voon

staff writer

Gilina Voon is a junior at Leland High School and is a writer and photographer for The Charger Account. She loves to run with her friends, cuddle with her dog, and travel/explore the world.

Jane Hong


Jane Hong is a freshman at Leland High School and works as an artist for The Charger Account. In her free time, Jane dances to K-pop, watches k-dramas, and practices drawing.

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