Clinical trial testing licorice root for prostate cancer begins this spring 

A new clinical trial studying whether a compound derived from licorice root will affect prostate cancer in patients is now open at the University of Illinois Chicago. The study will be the first to assess whether the natural product has anti-cancer effects that could benefit patients as they await surgical treatment. 

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The trial, managed by the University of Illinois Cancer Center, which is part of UIC, highlights the university’s strengths in translational and community-engaged research. The clinical study is based on laboratory findings made by scientists in Rockford at the College of Medicine. The new trial was also designed with community input to better reach and serve Black male patients, who suffer higher mortality rates from prostate cancer while remaining underrepresented in trials. 

“Clinical trials set the standard of care for prostate cancer and other cancers, but very few of them include minority men,” said Dr. Natalie Reizine, lead investigator of the trial. “So, it’s really hard to extrapolate those clinical trial results to the patients that I’m seeing in clinic.” 

The trial will enroll patients who have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Individuals will receive glycyrrhizin — the active compound in licorice root — in the weeks between diagnosis and surgery, and researchers will assess how the therapy affects the progression of cancer. 

Inspired by patient demand and lab discovery 

Licorice root is best known for its use as candy or flavoring, but cultures around the world have used the plant for centuries as a natural remedy. Recently, clinical trials have examined whether glycyrrhizin produces positive effects for patients with COVID-19, Parkinson’s disease or metabolic conditions. 

Dr. Natalie Reizine, UIC assistant professor of medicine. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine/UIC)

In a 2022 paper, the UIC research team of Gnanasekar Munirathinam proposed that glycyrrhizin could be a promising anti-cancer agent. The research caught the eye of Reizine, a medical oncologist at UI Health, the university’s health system, who said she often fields questions from patients about the role of natural supplements in fighting cancer. 

“When I engage with patients about supplements, there’s a lot more mutual respect in terms of talking about the importance of diet and exercise,” said Reizine, UIC assistant professor of medicine and cancer center member. “So I wondered if a clinical trial focused on integrative medicine could potentially be a facilitator for clinical trial enrollment.”  

Patients recently diagnosed with prostate cancer will be invited to enroll in the trial and individuals in the treatment group will receive a daily dose of glycyrrhizin. Researchers will then assess how the therapy affects biomarkers such as prostate-specific antigen and the pathology of tumor samples taken during surgery. 

A trial built with community input 

Reizine hopes that this trial will help reach the populations most in danger of contracting and dying from prostate cancer. Nationally, the disease occurs earlier and more often in Black men, and men on Chicago’s West and South sides die from prostate cancer three times more than the citywide average.  

To involve those patients, outreach and work with community partners is critical. Reizine recently appeared on the Prostate Cancer Real Talk podcast to talk about the disease. She has also worked with the cancer center’s Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity to form a community advisory board for the trial with leaders from organizations such as 100 Black Men of Chicago and Resolute Consulting Group.

The researchers and board will work together to ensure that the study and dissemination of its results align with community needs and perspectives.  

“The specific goal here is to be trustworthy,” said Yamilé Molina, associate director for community outreach and engagement at the cancer center and associate professor at the School of Public Health. “It’s about thinking through how we elevate community voice to be part of study leadership and dissemination.” 

Contact 312-355-5112 or for more information about this trial from the cancer center clinical trials office.

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