From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Curry spice kills throat cancer cells

Triggers cancer cell death

Curries may not be the healthiest of foods, but a chemical found in the curry spice tumeric can kill cancer cells, new research has found.

Past studies have shown curcumin, found in turmeric and the chemical that gives curry its mustard-yellow colour, may have anti-cancer properties.

Now scientists from the Cork Cancer Research Centre have found that it can kill oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory.

Dr Sharon McKenna, who led the study, said: “Scientists have known for a long time that natural compounds have the potential to treat faulty cells that have become cancerous and we suspected that curcumin might have therapeutic value."

They found that curcumin started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours. The cancer cells also began to digest themselves.

Additionally, the results, published in this month's British Journal of Cancer, showed that curcumin kills cells by triggering lethal cell death signals.

“These exciting results suggest scientists could develop curcumin as a potential anti-cancer drug to treat oesophageal cancer," Dr McKenna said.

Each year around 7,800 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in the UK. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death and accounts for around five per cent of all UK deaths due to cancer.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This is interesting research which opens up the possibility that natural chemicals found in tumeric could be developed into new treatments for oesophageal cancer.

“Rates of oesophageal cancer rates have gone up by more than a half since the 70s and this is thought to be linked to rising rates of obesity, alcohol intake and reflux disease so finding ways to prevent this disease is important too.”

This article was published on Wed 28 October 2009