New data was presented at the AACR 100th Annual Meeting in Denver describing an herb that kills pancreatic cancer cells. This same herb also appears to inhibit development of pancreatic cancer as a result of its anti-inflammatory properties, according to researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at the Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.
Thymoquinone, the major constituent of the oil extracted from a plant called Nigella sativa (a Middle Eastern herbal seed also known as Black Onion Seed or Black Caraway) exhibited anti-inflammatory properties that reduced the release of inflammatory mediators in pancreatic cancer cells, according to Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College.
"Nigella sativa seeds and oil are used in traditional medicine by many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. It helps treat a broad array of diseases, including some immune and inflammatory disorders," Dr. Arafat said. Previous studies have also shown it to have anti-cancer effects on prostate and colon cancers. It is an herbal product that has had very little use, and interest to date, in the USA.
The herb also inhibited the activation and synthesis of a transcription factor that has been implicated in inflammation-associated cancer. Activation of this factor has been observed in pancreatic cancer and may be a factor in pancreatic cancer’s resistance to chemotherapeutic agents. When animal models of pancreatic cancer were treated with thymoquinone, 67 percent of the tumors were significantly shrunken, and the levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the tumors were significantly reduced.
Chronic pancreatitis is associated with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, which seems to implicate inflammation in the development of solid tumor malignancies.
“Not only patients with chronic pancreatitis could benefit from this, but also several other groups with risk of development or recurrence of pancreatic cancer, such as high-risk family members and post-surgical patients," said Dr. Arafat. "These potent effects show promise for the herb as a potential preventive and therapeutic strategy for pancreatic cancer. More importantly, the herb and oil are safe when used moderately, and have been used for thousands of years without reported toxic effects.”
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with approximately 32,000 deaths a year. Only five percent of individuals with pancreatic cancer live for at least one year after diagnosis.