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About one hundred times less toxic than chemotherapy, turmeric extract (curcumin) was found more effective at killing colorectal cancer stem cells from patients than a popular combination of conventional drugs.
Researchers from the United Kingdom have just made a major breakthrough in cancer research by demonstrating for the first time in patient-derived colorectal cell lines that a turmeric extract (curcumin) is not only an effective adjunct agent to enhance conventional chemotherapy, but that it may be even more effective on its own.
Published this month in Cancer Letters and titled, "Curcumin inhibits cancer stem cell phenotypes in ex vivo models of colorectal liver metastases, and is clinically safe and tolerable in combination with FOLFOX chemotherapy," the study evaluated the so-called "diet-derived agent" curcumin -- the primary polyphenol in turmeric -- as a possible adjunct to enhance conventional treatment of colorectal cancer with chemotherapy.
The primary role of cancer stem cells in contributing to cancer malignancy as well as resistance to conventional treatment is addressed in the study. Whereas traditional cancer research methods focus on a treatment's ability to reduce tumor volume (or the number of cells in a cancer cell culture), the cancer stem cell theory acknowledges that treatments have highly differential effects on the different cell types that comprise the tumor; namely, whereas the relatively benign daughter cells of a tumor may die when exposed to chemotherapy, the relatively chemotherapy-resistant cancer stem cell population (so-called "mother" cells) can actually increase in number as the tumor volume decreases, resulting in creating an albeit smaller but far more dangerous, treatment-resistant tumor.
The study design and results were summarized in the abstract below:
Here, we utilised patient-derived colorectal liver metastases (CRLM) to assess whether curcumin may provide added benefit over 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) in cancer stem cell (CSC) models. Combination of curcumin with FOLFOX chemotherapy was then assessed clinically in a phase I dose escalation study. Curcumin alone and in combination significantly reduced spheroid number in CRLM CSC models, and decreased the number of cells with high aldehyde dehydrogenase activity (ALDHhigh/CD133−). Addition of curcumin to oxaliplatin/5-FU enhanced anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects in a proportion of patient-derived explants, whilst reducing expression of stem cell-associated markers ALDH and CD133. The phase I dose escalation study revealed curcumin to be a safe and tolerable adjunct to FOLFOX chemotherapy in patients with CRLM (n = 12) at doses up to 2 grams daily."
As you can see above, the researchers discovered that curcumin is both a safe and effective adjunct in the treatment of colorectal cancer. They noted the significance of these findings by pointing out that this was "the first time that curcumin may enhance oxaliplatin/5-FU-based chemotherapy in models derived directly from patients for whom the treatments are ultimately intended." Specifically, the curcumin was able to inhibit what is known as "spheroid formation," a 3-dimensional configuration of cells that indicates cancer stem cell driven cancer progression. Curcumin was also found to down-regulate cancer stem cell associated markers (e.g., CD44 and CD166 and ALDH activity), and various other chemical signals associated with carcinogenesis (e.g., epidermal growth factor, insulin-like growth factor and Notch). All these activities, taken together, indicate that curcumin is capable of targeting the stem cells at the heart of cancer malignancy. You can learn more about this in a previous article we wrote documenting curcumin's ability to kill cancer stem cells: "Turmeric Extract Strikes To the Root Cause of Cancer Malignancy." We also featured turmeric extract's ability to selectively target cancer cells while leaving healthy ones intact in a previous article titled, "Turmeric's 'Smart Kill' Properties Put Chemo & Radiation To Shame."