A compound that makes chili peppers spicy may help curb lung cancer spread, according to a study that may pave the way for a novel treatment against the deadly disease. Most cancer-related deaths occur when cancer spreads to distant sites, a process called metastasis.
“Lung cancer and other cancers commonly metastasize to secondary locations like the brain, liver or bone, making them difficult to treat,” said Jamie Friedman, a doctoral candidate who performed the research at Marshall University in the US.
“Our study suggests that the natural compound capsaicin from chili peppers could represent a novel therapy to combat metastasis in lung cancer patients,” Friedman said in a statement.
In experiments involving three lines of cultured human non-small cell lung cancer cells, the researchers observed that capsaicin inhibited invasion, the first step of the metastatic process. They also found that mice with metastatic cancer that consumed capsaicin showed smaller areas of metastatic cancer cells in the lung compared to mice not receiving the treatment.
Additional experiments revealed that capsaicin suppresses lung cancer metastasis by inhibiting activation of the protein Src. This protein plays a role in the signaling that controls cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation, motility and adhesion.
“We hope that one day capsaicin can be used in combination with other chemotherapeutics to treat a variety of lung cancers,” said Friedman.
“However, using capsaicin clinically will require overcoming its unpleasant side effects, which include gastrointestinal irritation, stomach cramps and a burning sensation,” he said.
The researchers are working to identify capsaicin analogues that will be non-pungent while retaining the anti-tumour activity of capsaicin. They are also trying to identify natural non-pungent capsaicin-like compounds with anti-cancer activity.