Effects of curcumin in chemotherapy is being investigated by Leicester University
A chemical found in curry is to be studied to see whether it can improve the treatment of patients with advanced bowel cancer.
A new study by scientists at the Cancer Research UK and National Institute for Health Research Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) in Leicester will investigate whether tablets containing curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, can be safely added to the standard treatment for bowel cancer that has spread.
Laboratory tests have suggested that curcumin can enhance the ability of chemotherapy drugs to kill bowel cancer cells.
Forty patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver will be recruited to take part in a two-year study at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Leicester General Hospital.
Patients with advanced bowel cancer are normally given a treatment called Folfox, which combines three chemotherapy drugs. But around 40–60% of patients don’t respond and, of those who do, side effects such as severe tingling or nerve pain can limit the number of treatment cycles patients can take.
Three-quarters of participants in the study will be given curcumin tablets for seven days, before being treated with Folfox. The remainder will receive Folfox only.
Chief investigator Professor William Steward, ECMC director at the University of Leicester, said: ‘Once bowel cancer has spread it is very difficult to treat, partly because the side effects of chemotherapy can limit how long patients can have treatment.
‘The prospect that curcumin might increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy is exciting because it could mean giving lower doses, so patients have fewer side effects and can keep having treatment for longer.
‘This research is at a very early stage, but investigating the potential of plant chemicals to treat cancer is an intriguing area that we hope could provide clues to developing new drugs in the future.’
Dr Joanna Reynolds, Cancer Research UK’s director of centres, said: ‘By doing a clinical trial like this we will find out more about the potential benefits of taking large amounts of curcumin, as well as any possible side effects this could have for cancer patients.’
Hope Against Cancer, The Royal College of Surgeons and the Bowel Disease Research Foundation are funding the trial.