2 -The Michigan Daily - Monday, June 2, 2003
'U' researcher heads investigation
of African milkbush, cancerlink
By Neal Pais
For the Daily
A new study in the British Journal of
Cancer has revealed a new source of
Burkitt's lymphoma - the most com-
mon childhood cancer in much of Africa.
Rosemary Rochford, Assistant Professor
of Epidemiology in the School of Public
Health, is currently heading the scientific
investigation into the suspect African
milkbush (Euphorbia tirucalli).
"The plant is everywhere - not just
around houses. My team conducted a
survey on its uses, and I came to the
realization that children must play with
its sticky sap," Rochford said.
The first milkbush research was pub-
lished by the British Journal of Cancer in
1993, piquing the interest of Rochford,
an expert on the Epstein-Barr virus -an
agent believed to stimulate the growth of
such cancers as Burkitt's lymphoma.
The issue remained largely untouched
until Rochford decided to conduct further
investigation. Last week, Rochford left for
Africa onher latestresearch expedition.
Burkitt's lymphoma is a cancer of
the immune system. Although it is
rarely found in the West, it is quite
common in Central Africa, where it
strikes the young. Rochford said it
is primarily found in the jaw.
"I started to think what small children
could do with the sap...they put it in
their mouths. And this is natural, of
course -it's how children are," she said.
According to many cancer
researchers, this behavior could prove to
be deadly. "In Africa a depressingly high
proportion of children die with almost
no treatment, so it is particularly impor-
tant to identify the factors that may be
increasing their risk, in order to help
prevent the disease" said Nobel Laure-
ate Sir Paul Nurse of Cancer Research
U.K. ina written statement.
"Further research is necessary to
confirm the link between exposure to
"My team conducted a
survey of its uses, and I
came to the realization
that children must play
with its sticky sap."
- Rosemary Rochford
Assistant Prof. of Epidemiology
milkbush sap and Burkitt's lymphoma.
But this study could be important, if
avoiding exposure to the plant reduced
the number of children suffering from
the disease," Nurse added.
After Rochford learned of the possible
connection between the African milkbush
and childhood cancer, she imported sev-
eral plants from a grower in Florida in
order to study the sap firsthand.
"When we added the sap to some
culture, we observed a change in the
pattern of cells. The sap produced
more viruses, stimulating a virus
cycle," Rochford said.
Having located the carcinogenic
compounds, Rochford began traveling
to Kenya in an attempt to find a way
to reduce the instance of milkbush-
"I hope to see more epidemiological
studies linked to actual fieldwork," she
said. Rochford and some of her graduate
students are currently in Africa, attempt-
ing to learn more about the milkbush
and other cancer-causing flora.
"There needs tobea greater awareness
of the dangers surrounding the milkbush.
Educational literature must be distributed.
Children must be brought in for vaccina-
tions. We've got to keep kids away from
this plant. But you know how children are,
and that's where the challenge lies."
Rochford said other complications
exist in alerting the African public of the
danger, referring to some of the tradi-
tional uses of the milkbush.
"Many tribal cultures believe in the
mystical properties of such plants. They
possess enormous value to the field of
ethnobotany," she said.
Rochford is confident that her
work will result in a suitable remedy
to this grave problem. Until then,
however, the children of Africa may
continue to be threatened by plants
growing in their own neighborhoods.
"More money needs to be spent on
this. Then we'll see where we go with
it...there's a lot more that can be
explored," Rochford said.
Continued from Page 1
thing for us to do - it's a great
reminder how unfortunate so many
others in the world really are and an
opportunity for us to help out in
some small way," he added.
Leading a group of volunteers
including Quinn around Guatemala,
Price first met Jenni in a remote
area called Chiquimula last July.
"We found Jenni at a shelter, where
her birth mother was unable to care
for her dying child," Price said.
"We knew she needed medical
help, but we didn't know how severe
the problem was," Quinn said.
"The first thing we did was to take
her to Guatemala City, the capital, where
the medical facilities are better," Price
added. "There it was determined that
Jenni was in a grave position that
demanded immediate attention."
Fortunately for Jenni, one of her
attending doctors was Dr. Aldo Cas-
taneda, retired chief of surgery at
Boston Children's Hospital.
"Castaneda said that the procedure
(necessary for Jenni) could not be
performed in Guatemala, and he rec-
ommended only four places in the US
that could operate on her."
After eight months of paperwork,
Jenni was scheduled to undergo surgery
at Boston Children's Hospital. But one
week prior to the operation, "the State of
Massachusetts cut their funding for free
care, and we could no longer afford the
operation," Price said.
Working in collaboration with another
organization, Children's Chance, Price
then came into contact with Bove, who
immediately agreed to do the surgery.
"The process for setting up Jenni's
operation at (the University) was
miraculously quick," Price said. "It
was only a matter of weeks before we
had final approval."
"I was ecstatic after hearing the
news," Quinn said. "I wat practi-
The fund for operating on children
who cannot afford treatment is support-
ed by "generous donors and other
sources who give to support this effort,"
Bove said. He added that doctor's fees
are waived in this type of operation.
"The University of Michigan is
extremely generous and gracious to
allow my colleagues and me to treat
indigent patients such as Jenni from
overseas by donating their services just
as the doctors donate theirs," Bove said.
Price said she feels that funds for
medical care should not only be
limited to American children.
"Ideally, there should be funds avail-
able to all children who have asked for
assistance;" she said. "But I don't think
that we can say that one child is more
valuable than another child."
Since their arrival in AnnArbor, Price
and Quinn have been staying at the
Ronald McDonald House, which houses
relatives of children requiring long-term
stays at the University Hospital.
Bove, Quinn, and Price all have a
positive outlook for Jenni's future.
"I think Jenni's over the tough part
and is now well on her way to recov-
ery. She will require more surgery
in the future, to change the tube that
was inserted when she outgrows it,
but will hopefully enjoy a long and
happy life," Bove said.
After returning home to Montana
with Jenni, Quinn, who is 22, plans to
return to Guatemala to finalize her legal
guardianship over Jenni. "In the future, I
want (Jenni) to be very exposed to
Guatemala, to have a connection with
the people where she started off, where
she came from," Quinn added.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the
"Jenni Fund" that will help pay for
Jenni's medical expenses can drop off
donations at the Ronald McDonald
House or e-mail Sharon Price at
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