The Saint Louis University scientists showed that a combination of two plant compounds that have medicinal properties – curcumin and silymarin – holds promise in treating the disease.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, which is present in spicy curry dishes, and silymarin is a component of milk thistle, which has been used to treat liver disease.
The researchers and their students studied a line of colon cancer cells in a laboratory model. They found treating the cells initially with curcumin, then with silymarin was more effective in fighting cancer than treating the cells with either phytochemical alone, said corresponding author Uthayashanker Ezekiel.
“The combination of phytochemicals inhibited colon cancer cells from multiplying and spreading. In addition, when the colon cancer cells were pre-exposed to curcumin and then treated with silymarin, the cells underwent a high amount of cell death,” he noted, adding “Phytochemicals may offer alternate therapeutic approaches to cancer treatments and avoid toxicity problems and side effects that chemotherapy can cause.”
Scientists next would need to study how the curcumin and silymarin impact the actions of molecules, such as genetic transcription and expression, that cause cells to change, Ezekiel said. Then the compounds would be studied in an animal model, then in humans. (The study appears in the Journal of Cancer.