Curcumin Can Kill Tumor Cells

Curcumin, a compound found in the Indian spice tumeric that gives curry powder its yellow color, killed esophageal cancer cells in a lab via an unexpected cell-death mechanism that did not include aptosis or cell suicide. Researchers found that the compound started killing cancer cells within 24 hours and the cells began to digest themselves. The study was conducted at University College Cork in Ireland and appears in the British Journal of Cancer.

Lead author, Dr. Sharon McKenna claims, “These exciting results suggest that scientists could develop curcumin as a potential anti-cancer drug to treat esophageal cancer.” She explained that researchers have long been aware that natural compounds have potential therapeutic value in treating cancerous cells and they suspected that curcumin was one of them.

Researchers had been looking for new ways of killing resistant esophageal cancer cells. When exposed to curcumin, they observed that the cells started to die using a cell signaling system that unexpectedly did not go via the apoptosis or cell suicide path. Not only did the cells show no evidence of suicide, when researchers added a molecule that stops the triggering of apoptosis, it made no difference to the number of cells that died.

Professor Gerald O’Sullivan of Cork Cancer Research Center said this study opens the door to developing natural chemicals in tumeric into new treatments for esophageal cancer. He believes, “The incidence of esophageal cancer has gone up by more than a half since the 70s, particularly in the Western world and this is thought to be linked to rising rates of obesity, alcohol intake and reflux disease, so finding ways to both treat and prevent this disease is extremely important.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2009 there will be approximately 16,000 new esophageal cancer cases and 14,000 deaths in the US. Less than 20 percent of patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer will live more than five years.


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