Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

phytochemical composition; KY native plants; breast cancer; Sanguinaria canadensis; Melissa officinalis; Cercis canadensis


Plants are a proven and rich source of chemical diversity for the development of pharmaceuticals. Plants that are native to Kentucky are an underexplored resource that could lead to advances in treating human diseases such as cancer. Kentucky native plants, especially those with highly diverse or enriched chemical compositions are possible leads for therapeutic drug development. To explore the potential of native Kentucky plants for treatment of breast cancer, a list of prospective target plants was developed based on literature reports. This list was narrowed to 10 tissues for further in-depth chemical analysis including estimation of alkaloids, terpenes, and phenolics, which are categories of plant-derived chemicals that have been reported to have bioactivity. These analyses revealed bloodroot root (Sanguinaria canadensis) to have the highest content of alkaloids (65 mg/gDW), purple redbud leaves (Cercis canadensis) to have the highest content of terpenes (756 ± 28 mg/gDW), and lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis) to have the highest content of phenolics (43 ± 3 mg/gDW). Thus, extracts of these three plants were used to screen for activity against the triple negative breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 and the endocrine responsive cell line T-47D. The root extract of the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was found to have the overall highest percent inhibition of cell proliferation in triple negative MDA-MB-231 and endocrine responsive T-47D cancer proliferation (Inhibitory Concentration)50 (IC50)= 0.0002 and IC50 = 0.0005 mg/mL media respectively) when compared to vehicle control. Lemon balm leaves yielded an IC50 of 0.0416 for T-47D and IC50 = 0.1118 for MDA-MB-231, and purple redbud leaves yielded an IC50 of 0.0082 for T-47D and IC50 = 0.0869 for MDA-MB-231. Based on these results, Kentucky native plants merit further consideration for research and development of therapeutic drugs. In particular and based on results reported here, bloodroot roots merits more detailed studies for its activity against breast cancer.

Lay Summary

Plants have often been a target for the development of pharmaceutical drugs that treat human diseases such as cancer. Kentucky native plants are an underexplored resource that could lead to advances in pharmaceutical development. This study aims to estimate contents of various plant-derived chemicals (protein, starch, phenolics, anthocyanins, terpenes, alkaloids, and lipids) of 10 selected plants native to Kentucky and, based on these results, test the three tissues with the highest contents of potentially anti-cancerous compounds (phenolics, terpenes, and alkaloids) for activity against two human breast cancer cells that model early, more easily treated breast cancer (T-47D) and more advanced difficult to treat breast cancer (MDA-MB-231). For both cell lines, extracts of bloodroot roots, lemon balm leaves, and purple redbud leaves yielded inhibition in a concentration-dependent manner with extract of bloodroot roots resulting in the overall highest inhibition of breast cancer cell proliferation. Based on these results, Kentucky native plants and especially bloodroot roots merit further investigation for their potential to limit breast cancer cell proliferation.

Included in

Biology Commons