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New Study Says Compound Curcumin Kills Mesothelioma Cells

Turmeric has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine since as early as the seventh century AD to treat a long list of conditions such as bronchitis, fever, leprosy, diarrhea, and skin disorders. Now, a group of researchers have joined a growing army of scientists who believe that the active ingredient in the spice called curcumin can help fight malignant mesothelioma (MM). In a new study led by principal investigator Dr. Laura Masuelli, researchers found that curcumin blocks autophagy (intracellular degradation) and activates the death of malignant mesothelioma cell lines.

Extensive research on curcumin and its effects on cancer has been conducted over the past half century—some 6,000 citations and counting. More than 100 clinical trials have been conducted over the past quarter century to address the pharmacokinetics, safety, and efficacy of curcumin against numerous diseases in humans. Cancer is at the top of the list.

According to a review article published by researchers from the Ohio State University in Columbus, curcumin demonstrated anticancer effects in virtually all stages of tumor development in rodents and showed potential to kill cancer cells and prevent normal cells from becoming cancerous. This was particularly true for cancers of the stomach, colon, skin, intestines, and breasts in rodents.

Studies on the effects of curcumin on common cancers have been so promising over the years that it was just a matter of time before researchers would begin to focus on rare, difficult-to-treat cancers such as mesothelioma. In addition to the recent study, in 2011, principle investigator Dr. Ying Wang and his team discovered that curcumin inhibited malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) cell growth in a dose- and time-dependent manner while pretreatment of MPM cells with curcumin enhanced cisplatin efficacy. Oral administration of curcumin inhibited growth of murine MPM cell-derived tumors in vivo in part by stimulating apoptosis (cell death). Thus, says the study, curcumin targets cell cycle and promotes apoptosis to suppress MPM growth in vitro and in vivo.

Yet another study published in 2014 by scientists from Case Western Reserve University concluded that curcumin slows the progression of mesothelioma by increasing levels of a protein inhibitor known to combat this kind of cancer. And another 2014 study, “Curcumin: A Double Hit on Malignant Mesothelioma,” demonstrated that curcumin induces cytotoxic effects on MM cells, and that it has anti-inflammatory effects by blocking cytokine processing of IL-1β and IL-18 and genes involved in the NF-kB pathway.

Though curcumin appears to be on the path to becoming an effective treatment for mesothelioma, more studies and clinical trials have to be conducted. Doctors and researchers caution that taking turmeric or curcumin supplements won’t have the same effects as they do in studies. The doses used in clinical studies are quite large—3.6 to 10 grams or more. Over-the-counter supplements are typically 400-600 mg per capsule. Further, “neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine,” says Dr. Andrew Weil. Animal and laboratory studies are ongoing and preliminary studies in humans are underway.



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