A compound found in the spice turmeric, when combined with a common anti-nausea drug, has been found to destroy cancers cells in the lab.
In a study published in the journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center researchers found the one-two punch delivered by curcumin — an active ingredient in the common kitchen spice — and the drug thalidomide effectively creates hybrid molecules that kill multiple myeloma cells.
"Although thalidomide disturbs the microenvironment of tumor cells in bone marrow, it disintegrates in the body," said lead researcher Shijun Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy. "Curcumin, also active against cancers, is limited by its poor water solubility. But the combination of thalidomide and curcumin in the hybrid molecules enhances both the cytotoxicity and solubility."
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Thalidomide was used in the 1950s to help control morning sickness, but was taken off the shelves in 1962 after it was found to cause birth defects. In the 1990s the drug was re-introduced as a treatment for multiple myeloma. Turmeric has long been used in herbal remedies and is being studied as a potential weapon against cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.
The VCU researchers found the hybrid molecules of turmeric and thalidomide created more created two compounds that effectively induced cancer cells to self-destruct.
"Overall, the combination of the spice and the drug was significantly more potent than either individually, suggesting that this hybrid strategy in drug design could lead to novel compounds with improved biological activities," said co-researcher researchers Steven Grant, M.D.
"The results also strongly encourage further optimization of [these] compounds … to develop more potent agents as treatment options for multiple myeloma."
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