Washington: An ingredient used in a traditional Chinese herbal remedy may help treat deadly brain tumours, scientists have claimed.

Researchers at the Ohio State University found that the indirubin -- a compound derived from the Indigo plant and used in the Dang Gui Long Hui Wan formula to treat leukaemia -- blocks migration of glioblastoma cells and endothelial cells, preventing them from forming the new blood vessels that tumours need to grow.

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common and lethal form of the malignancy, with an average survival of 15 months after diagnosis. Endothelial is the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels.

"We have pretty good methods to stop glioblastoma from growing in the human brain, but these therapies fail because tumour cells migrate from the original site and grow elsewhere in the brain," said co-author E Antonio Chiocca, professor in Neurological Surgery at Ohio.

"Our findings suggest that Indirubin offers a novel therapeutic strategy for these tumours that simultaneously targets tumour invasion and angiogenesis (a process involving the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels)," Chiocca said.

For their study, published in the journal Cancer Research, the researchers transplanted human glioblastoma cells into one brain hemisphere of mice.

They found that indirubin-treated animals survived significantly longer than controls and showed no migration of tumour cells to the opposite hemisphere.

In a separate experiment, it was found that indirubin reduced the migration of tumour cells by 40 per cent in treated animals versus controls.

"Overall, our findings suggest that indirubins reduce tumour invasion and tumour vasculature because of their ant migratory effects on both tumour and endothelial cells," Chiocca added.