Researchers Show Curcumin Protects Against Chemoresistant Pancreatic Cancer

Study shows how the natural compound helps turn off pathways linked to drug resistance

Article ID: 678578

Released: 27-Jul-2017 10:05 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Baylor Scott and White Health

Newswise — DALLAS (July 27, 2017) – Curcumin is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but a new study by researchers at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute reveals an additional benefit: its potential to overcome chemoresistance in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a common but aggressive form of cancer in the pancreas.

The study, “Curcumin sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells to gemcitabine by attenuating PRC2 subunit EZH2, and the lncRNA PVT1 expression,” recently was published in Carcinogenesis, an integrative cancer research journal. Previous research demonstrated the advantages of taking curcumin preventatively, but this is the first study of its kind to demonstrate benefits of curcumin as an adjunct to chemotherapy.

Resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs is a major challenge in caring for patients with PDAC, the fourth leading cause of cancer-related U.S. deaths. Patients may respond to chemotherapy initially, but as cancer stem cells form, the body can develop drug resistance. Now, researchers have developed an improved understanding of the molecular events underlying the development of pancreatic stem cells and the role that curcumin—the main component of turmeric—plays in overcoming resistance to vital chemotherapy drugs.

“By treating certain cells with small doses of curcumin, we were able to reverse the pathways that lead to chemoresistance,” says Ajay Goel, Ph.D., director of gastrointestinal research and translational genomics and oncology at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute and author of the study. “This is an important breakthrough that could lead to better prognosis and longer lives for patients with chemoresistant pancreatic cancer.” 

Dr. Goel and his team identified Enhancer of Zeste Homolog-2 (EZH2) subunit of Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) as key players in regulating drug resistance. When pancreatic cancer cells were treated with curcumin, the pathways associated with chemotherapy drug resistance were inhibited, thereby increasing reception to first-line drug therapy. Curcumin also was found to prevent the formation of spheroids, a hallmark of cancer stem cells, which would in turn reduce tumor growth and recurrence.

Other studies have demonstrated curcumin's role in mitigating a variety of health conditions, including arthritis, depression and various types of cancers. Dr. Goel’s research team is leading the way in multi-faceted studies to explore the healing powers of this natural compound. Current clinical trials are underway to explore the role of curcumin and cervical, breast and colorectal cancers.

“Food-based botanicals have the potential to restore a healthier gene expression in patients but without the toxicity of certain drugs,” Dr. Goel said.

About Baylor Scott & White Health Formed from the 2013 merger between Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare, the system referred to as Baylor Scott & White Health is the largest not-for-profit health care system in the state of Texas. With total assets of $10.8 billion* and serving a population larger than the state of Georgia, Baylor Scott & White Health has the vision and resources to provide its patients continued quality care while creating a model system for a dramatically changing health care environment. The system now includes 48 hospitals, more than 1,000 access points, 5,500 active physicians, and 44,000 employees, plus the Scott & White Health Plan, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute and Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance — a network of clinical providers and facilities focused on improving quality, managing the health of patient populations, and reducing the overall cost of care. For more information visit: 

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* based on unaudited 2016 fiscal year statements

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