Posted on Jan 09, 2017, 6 a.m.
New research may have uncovered a molecule that slows down triple-negative breast cancer, which is especially aggressive and difficult to treat.
Research at Bochum, Germany's Ruhr University led by Dr. Hanns Hatt and Dr. Lea Webero with collaboration by several German institutions, tested the effects of a spicy compound in chili peppers that could aid in slowing cultivated tumor cells of a subtype of breast cancer known as triple-negative breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in women around the entire world regardless of race or ethnicity.
Scientists, through genetic research, have been able to place breast cancer in subtypes which respond in different ways to types of treatment. Triple-negative breast cancer is especially aggressive and has proven to be very difficult to find a treatment for because of the absence of the three receptors that are known to promote breast cancer. Those are estrogen receptors (ER), progesterone receptors (PR), and the growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2).
Breast cancers that test positively for HER2 usually respond well to treatment and some specific drugs. However, the type of cancer that tests negatively for those needed receptors is called triple-negative breast cancer. Since the tumor cells in that cancer lack the three receptors, commonly used treatments such as hormone therapy and drugs that target them are not effective. Using chemotherapy, however, is still effective and usually the only option, and this cancer, in the early stages, may respond better to chemotherapy than other cancers.
Tested was the effect of the active ingredient capsaicin, which is in chili or pepper, on SUM149PT cell culture, a model for triple-negative breast cancer. Capsaicin has been shown to induce the death of cells and to inhibit their growth.
The scientists were motivated by other existing research which suggests that some transient receptor potential (TRP) channels have an influence on the growth of cancer cells. TRP channels are membranous channels that conduct sodium and calcium ions, which can be influenced by stimuli including pH changes or temperature.
One TRP channel that plays a significant role in the development of several diseases is TRPV1, an olfactory receptor, to which researchers have given a great deal of attention. In this study, the researchers investigated the TRP channels in a large selection of breast cancer tissue, as well as analyzing how TRPV1 could be utilized in breast cancer therapy. The TRPV1 receptor appeared quite frequently and in the tumor cells of nine different samples taken from breast cancer patients.
The cultivated cells contained several typical olfactory receptors, which are proteins that bind together smell molecules and are located on olfactory receptor cells lining the nose. TRPV1 is typically in the fifth cranial nerve, named the trigeminal nerve. TRPV1 is activated by the spice capsaicin and by helional, a chemical compound with a fresh sea breeze scent. Helional and capsaicin were added to the culture for hours or days, which activated the TRPV1.
As a result of theTRPV1 being activated, the cancer cells died more slowly, tumor cells died in larger numbers, and the ones remaining were not able to move as quickly. This suggests a reduction in their ability to metastasize. An intake of capsaicin through inhalation or food would not be sufficient to treat triple-negative cancer. However, Dr. Hanns Hatt, the lead study author, said that if the TRPV1 receptor could be switched on with specially designed drugs, it might constitute a new treatment for this type of cancer.
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Expression and functionality of TRPV1 in breast cancer cells, Breast Cancer: Targets and Therapy, doi: https://doi.org/10.2147/BCTT.S121610, published online 13 December 2016.