IIT Madras shows ‘active principle’ from turmeric can potentially improve outcomes of cancer therapies

The team found that treating leukaemia cells with curcumin sensitises the cells to TRAIL and results in more efficient cell death

IIT Madras, Blood cancer, Turmeric, Prof Rama Shanker Verma, Curcumin, Leukaemia

The Indian institute of Technology Madras researchers have shown that the active principle from turmeric and curcumin can enhance cancer cell death caused by a protein called ‘TRAIL.’

There have been considerable efforts in developing therapeutic agents that trigger apoptotic death of cancer cells.  One such agent that has been found promising is a protein called ‘TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand’ (TRAIL).  Its ability to selectively kill cancer cells by ‘apoptosis’ has resulted in a number of preclinical studies being carried out all over the world.
In cancer treatment, it is important to induce death of the cancer cells preferentially without extensive damage to healthy cells in the body.

  ‘Apoptosis’, or programmed cell death, is generally preferred over the more aggressive and premature ‘necrosis’ for killing cancer cells because it releases fewer cellular components that trigger inflammation than the latter.

This research was led by Prof.Rama Shanker Verma, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras. The results of this work were recently published in the reputed peer-reviewed journal Pharmacological Reports. The paper was co-authored by Sridevi Surapally, Madhumathi Jayaprakasam and Prof. Verma.

Elaborating on this research and its impact, Prof Rama Shanker Verma, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, said, “Despite strong anti-tumor activity of TRAIL in pre-clinical studies, clinical trials results have hitherto been unsatisfactory because cancer cells seem to acquire resistance against TRAIL upon long-term exposure. Thus, the next round of research has been to find chemicals that can reverse resistance and increase sensitivity of cancer cells to TRAIL.”

Several studies have focused on natural compounds that could significantly enhance TRAIL-mediated apoptosis at non-toxic concentrations.  The IIT Madras team chose curcumin, the yellow part of the common turmeric that is used in daily cooking, as a sensitizer of TRAIL-resistant cancer cells to apoptosis.

Curcumin is already known to be a potent anti-cancer agent because of its ability to inhibit carcinogenesis and induce apoptosis in various cancer cells. Its function as a sensitizer to TRAIL has been shown in cases of prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and malignant glioma. 

The IIT Madras Research Team showed that treating leukaemia (blood/bone-marrow cancer) cells with curcumin sensitises the cells to TRAIL and results in more efficient cell death. They performed studies using isolated leukaemia cells from cancer patients and found that non-toxic concentrations of curcumin can significantly increase the efficiency of TRAIL-induced cell death.
“Our findings clearly

show that even small concentration of curcumin could potentially enhance the sensitiveness of leukemic cells to TRAIL,” said the researchers.