California: A chemical in curry powder could fight cancer, according to research. Scientists suggest curcumin, a chemical in turmeric which gives the curry powder its yellow colour, could slow the growth of tumours in breast and blood cancers.
It does this by making cancer cells less able to break down or destroy other cells.
Although the researchers from the University of California say eating the spice or supplements will not fight cancer, the discovery could lead to new treatments.
And curcumin, which has been thought in the past to have cancer-fighting abilities, may actually be 500 times stronger than previously thought.
Lab tests found when it is combined with a commonly used drug for a specific type of blood cancer, curcumin made it work better while also reducing side effects.
The researchers say their findings, from experiments on mice, are ‘unexpected’ and they now hope to develop a targeted cancer drug using the curcumin.
Curcumin could be used to fight cancer because when in the blood stream it binds to a specific type of enzyme called DYRK2 and, when the two are connected, cells cannot reproduce as quickly.
A hallmark of cancer is its ability to grow quickly and uncontrollably, but this could be slowed down by curcumin, the researchers say.
Curcumin ‘significantly’ reduces the size of tumours
On a study in mice using curcumin ‘significantly’ reduced the size of tumours and stopped it spreading as much.
Researcher Sourav Banerjee said: ‘In general, curcumin is expelled from the body quite fast.
‘For curcumin to be an effective drug, it needs to be modified to enter the blood stream and stay in the body long enough to target the cancer.
‘Owing to various chemical drawbacks, curcumin on its own may not be sufficient to completely reverse cancer in human patients.’
Chemical could work against blood or breast cancer
The study was done on mice with multiple myeloma – a cancer of the white blood cells – or triple negative breast cancer, which makes up about 15 per cent of breast cancer cases.
In the past curcumin was thought to fight cancer cells by binding to different enzymes, but when it attaches to DYRK2 it is 500 times more effective.
Co-author Jack Dixon added: ‘Our results reveal an unexpected role of curcumin [and] may offer new opportunities for hard-to-treat triple-negative breast cancer and multiple myeloma treatment.
‘Our primary focus is to develop a chemical compound that can target DYRK2 in patients with these cancers.’
Combining curcumin with approved medication kills more cancer cells
The researchers combined curcumin with cafrilzomib – a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for patients with multiple myeloma.
Combining the two caused more cancer cells to die and normal cells were less affected, meaning curcumin could one day lead to a more powerful drug with fewer side effects.