Spicy Treatment for Cancer

Turmeric may have a role in fighting cancer

It’s been treasured by food lovers for thousands of years for its rich golden colour, peppery flavour and mustardy aroma… and now turmeric may also have a role in fighting cancer.

Researchers at Flinders are investigating whether an active ingredient of the turmeric plant, called curcumin, can be used alone or in conjunction with standard therapies to treat malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos. Malignant mesothelioma is a tumour of the thin membranes that surround the lungs, heart and abdominal internal organs.

"Currently there is no effective treatment for the cancer. Standard chemotherapy shows only limited success, and radical surgery is only available to few patients, and success is not guaranteed,” explained lead researcher Associate Professor Sonja Klebe, from the Department of Anatomical Pathology at Flinders Medical Centre.  

Associate Professor Klebe said average survival after diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma was less than a year, and current therapies to treat the cancer could make patients quite unwell. Curcumin has long been known to have anti-inflammatory effects and more recently, has been shown to have anti-carcinogenic properties which help overcome drug resistance to chemotherapy.  

“Previous research has been successful in inhibiting the growth of mesothelioma tumour cells in animal model cells in a laboratory setting using curcumin, and recently we have been able to repeat that success – but with the use of patients’ cells,” said Professor Klebe.  

“Importantly, this breakthrough allows us to predict if a certain patient is likely to benefit from therapy.”

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