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Can natural agents help destroy cancer cells?

Could a cure for certain types of chemotherapy-resistant cancer be in your kitchen cupboard?

As part of their exploration into holistic cancer treatments, Karmanos researchers are investigating the beneficial properties of curcumin, the major active ingredient in the spice turmeric. Besides being used in many Southeast Asian dishes, turmeric has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory agent. The research interest in curcumin stems from epidemiological studies that show reduced incidences of cancer in the Asian population, which consumes curcumin as part of their regular diet.

In 2009, Karmanos researchers developed a novel compound called CDF (which stands for curcumin-difluorinated), a synthetic compound derived from curcumin. In pre-clinical studies, CDF has been shown to be effective against prostate, lung, breast, colon and pancreatic cancer cells.

“CDF is a very promising compound,” says Fazlul Sarkar, Ph.D., professor of Pathology and Oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine. “CDF can kill a cell that is very resistant to conventional therapeutics.” 

Dr. Sarkar and his fellow researchers recently received a $1,262,600 grant from the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health to investigate the use of CDF against resistant forms of prostate cancer. Once additional funding is secured and formal toxicology reports are completed, Karmanos patients can receive CDF as part of a Phase I clinical trial in the future. If the drug is proven effective as it moves through different trial phases, it could receive FDA approval for standard treatment in the future.

In addition to CDF, Karmanos researchers are investigating the benefits of soybean isoflavones on lung cancer and indole-3-carbinol, a chemical found in vegetables like broccoli, on prostate cancer. 

“For many years, scientists have ignored what nature provides to alleviate pain and suffering from many diseases,” Dr. Sarkar says. “Karmanos is at the forefront of researching novel ways of using natural agents to treat and prevent cancer.”

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