A well-known, aromatic spice may hold the power to stop cancer, according to a team led by City of Hope scientists.
Cinnamon, one of the most ancient spices in human history, appears to have unique cancer-stunting properties, researchers reported in the Dec. 7 issue of the journal Carcinogenesis. Scientists in City of Hope’s Department of Molecular Medicine showed that extracts of the spice may be able to block the growth of blood vessels, called angiogenesis, in tumors.
|Wei Wen, right, and Jianming Lu are seeking natural products that might block tumors’ blood supply. (Photo by Darrin S. Joy)|
“We found that a water-based extract from cinnamon was a potent angiogenesis inhibitor,” said Wei Wen, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine and senior author on the study. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a small evergreen tree.
VEGF, short for vascular endothelial growth factor, is a protein that promotes angiogenesis. It can be highly active in tumors, which need to encourage growth of blood vessels to bring them nourishment to keep growing.
VEGF works by binding to one or both of its receptors, VEGFR1 and VEGFR2, on the surface of cells. That activates a cascade of biochemical reactions that lead to blood vessel growth.
In lab experiments, Wen and her team found that an extract of cinnamon blocked VEGFR2, preventing VEGF from linking to the receptor — and inhibiting angiogenesis.
The study was part of the group’s ongoing search for natural compounds that can prevent VEGF from binding to its receptors. Researchers are interested in finding drugs that target VEGF to choke the flow of blood to tumors, explained Wen, but the drugs’ side effects can be difficult on patients, which limits their long-term use. Wen believes finding naturally occurring VEGF inhibitors is a promising alternative approach.
“Plus, since these substances are from our normal diet, we already know they are safe,” she added.
Wen’s search for natural VEGF inhibitors previously resulted in her discovery of VEGF-blocking ability in grape seed extract, a popular nutritional supplement. Wen hopes to study the cinnamon extract in mice with tumors to determine if it can block angiogenesis and slow or stop tumor growth.