Good news for curry wallahs, ingredient helps fight cancer

November 04, 2017

Apparently, curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric, interferes with melanoma cells.

A team at the University of Texas, found in laboratory tests, in a process known as apoptosis, that curcumin made melanoma skin cancer cells more likely to self-destruct.

In an even more promising finding, the same team discovered that curcumin helped stop the spread of breast cancer tumor cells to the lungs of mice.

In the tests Bharat Aggarwal of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues, treated three batches of melanoma cells, known as cell lines, with curcumin at different doses and for varying times.

The researchers found that the curcumin suppressed two proteins that tumor cells use to keep themselves immortal.

Aggarwal's team say that based on their studies, they concluded that curcumin is a potent suppressor of cell viability and an inducer of apoptosis in melanoma cell lines.

They do add however, that further investigations and clinical trials are planned to determine the effects of curcumin in animal models of melanoma.

Earlier research has already shown that curcumin, which acts as an antioxidant, can help prevent tumors from forming in the laboratory.

Aggarwal says it is recognised that people who eat plenty of turmeric have lower rates of some cancers, although the spice itself has not been shown to reduce cancer risk in people.

The study will be published in next month's issue of the journal Cancer.

This work is just the latest by M. D. Anderson researchers to show how curcumin can inhibit cancer growth. "Curcumin affects virtually every tumor biomarker that we have tried," says Aggarwal. "It works through a variety of mechanisms related to cancer development. We, and others, previously found that curcumin down regulates EGFR activity that mediates tumor cell proliferation, and VEGF that is involved in angiogenesis. Besides inhibiting NF-kB, curcumin was also found to suppress STAT3 pathway that is also involved in tumorigenesis. Both these pathways play a central role in cell survival and proliferation."

He said that an ability to suppress numerous biological routes to cancer development is important if an agent is to be effective. "Cells look at everything in a global way, and inhibiting just one pathway will not be effective," says Aggarwal.

In this study, the researchers treated three different melanoma cell lines with curcumin and assessed the activity of NF-kB, as well the protein, known as "IKK" that switches NF-kB "on." The spice kept both proteins from being activated, so worked to stop growth of the melanoma, and it also induced "apoptosis," or programmed death, in the cells.

Surprisingly, it didn't matter how much curcumin was used, says the researchers. "The NF-kB machinery is suppressed by both short exposures to high concentrations of curcumin as well as by longer exposure to lower concentrations of curcumin," they say in their study. Given that other studies have shown curcumin is non-toxic, these results should be followed by a test of the spice in both animal models of melanoma and in human trials, they say.