Traditional Chinese herbal medicines for treatment of liver fibrosis and cancer: from laboratory discovery to clinical evaluation


Dr John M. Luk, Department of Surgery, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China


Liver disease afflicts over 10% of the world population. This includes chronic hepatitis, alcoholic steatosis, fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which are the most health-threatening conditions drawing considerable attention from medical professionals and scientists. Patients with alcoholism or viral hepatitis are much more likely to have liver cell damage and cirrhosis, and some may eventually develop HCC, which is unfortunately, and very often, a fatal malignancy without cure. While liver surgery is not suitable in many of the HCC cases, patients are mostly given palliative support cares or transarterial chemoembolization or systemic chemotherapies. However, HCC is well known to be a highly chemoresistant tumour, and the response rate is <10–20%. To this end, alternative medicines are being actively sought from other sources with hopes to halt the disease's progression or even eliminate the tumours. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine has begun to gain popularity worldwide for promoting healthcare as well as disease prevention, and been used as conventional or complementary medicines for both treatable and incurable diseases in Asia and the West. In this article, we discuss the laboratory findings and clinical trial studies of Chinese herbal medicines (particularly small molecule compounds) for the treatment of liver disease ranging from fibrosis to liver cancer.