By Chioma Umeha
A recent study has identified that chillies could help fight breast cancer after scientists revealed the spicy ingredient causes diseased cells to self destruct.
Capsaicin, the active component that gives chillies their trademark kick, can switch on specialised channels surrounding cancer cells causing them to die.
Scientists from Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, treated human samples of breast cancer cells with the hot ingredient to find out more about its ability to destroy them.
The study also categorised the various subtypes of breast cancer that respond to different types of treatment. The researchers found that the triple-negative breast cancer is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat.
This new study may have discovered a molecule capable of slowing down this kind of cancer, an online report said Tuesday.
Genetic research has enabled scientists to classify breast cancer into subtypes, which respond differently to various kinds of treatment. The subtypes are categorized based on the presence or absence of three receptors known to promote breast cancer namely, estrogen, progesterone and epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).
Breast cancers that test positively for HER2 responds well to treatments, but there are breast cancers that test negative for HER2, estrogen and progesterone known as the triple-negative breast cancer. Studies have found that the triple-negative cancer is more difficult to treat, with chemotherapy being the only option, according to MNT.
The researchers at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, tested the effects of a spicy molecule on cultivated tumour cells of the triple-negative cancer. A compound in chili pepper could help slow this subtype of breast cancer, the study authors said.
The researchers led by Dr. Hanns Hatt and Dr. Lea Weber, collaborated with several institutions in Germany, including the hospital Herz-Jesu-Krankenhaus in Dernbach, the Augusta clinics in Bochum and the Centre of Genomics in Cologne.
They experimented on the effects of an active ingredient commonly found in chili pepper called capsaicin on SUM149PT cell culture – a model for triple-negative breast cancer. Capsaicin has also been used to kill cell and inhibit the growth of cancer cell in several cancer types including colon and pancreatic cancer.
They were motivated by the findings of existing research on the topic, which suggests that several transient receptor potential (TRP) channels influence cancer cell growth. The researchers explained that TRP channels are membranous ion channels that conduct calcium and sodium ions, and can be influenced by several stimuli including changes in temperature or pH, according to World Times 24.
The TRP channel that plays a key role in the development of diseases is the olfactory receptor TRPV1 – proteins located on olfactory receptor cells lining of the nose which binds smell molecules together.
The researchers investigated the expression of TRP channels in a vast amount of breast cancer tissue and also analyse how TRPV1 could be used in breast cancer therapy.
They found several typical olfactory receptors in the cultivated cells and the TRPV1 receptor appeared more frequently. The olfactory receptor was activated by capsaicin and also by helional – a chemical compound that produces the scent of fresh sea breeze.
The scientist found TRPV1 in the tumour cells of nine different samples from breast cancer patients. They added capsaicin and helional to the culture for several hours and even days which activated the TRPV1 receptor in the cell culture.
Following the activation, the cancer cells died slowly but tumor cells died in larger numbers thus leaving the remaining ones weak and unable to move as quickly as before. This suggests that their ability to metastasize was reduced.
However, the authors note that the intake of capsaicin through food or inhalation would not be sufficient to treat the triple-negative cancer, but a specially designed drug might help.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in women around the world, with up to 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012. It is also the most common type of cancer in women in the U.S., irrespective of race or ethnicity.
The researchers published their findings in Breast Cancer: Targets and Therapy.