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Aggressive Breast Cancer Could Be Tamed By Ingredient Found in Cardamom Spice, Say Scientists

Cardamom pods by Stephantom, CC license

The spice cardamon could hold the key to tackling aggressive types of breast cancer, according to new research.

A natural compound called cardamonin found in the spice kills cancer cells and prevents them from flying under the immune system’s radar, say scientists at the Florida A&M University.

Around 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers are known as “triple-negative” which are more aggressive and deadly.

They are also difficult to treat with hormone-based therapies used for other types of breast cancer.

But now, the scientists in Tallahassee have made a promising discovery which could pave the way for new treatments.

“There is a critical need to investigate medicinal plants as a new way to combat this cancer,” says study author Dr. Patricia Mendonca, who took on the challenge to develop a targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer that is both safe and effective.

Her team studied how cardamonin affected the expression of a gene dubbed PD-L1 found in tumor cells. The gene plays a critical role in helping breast cancer cells escape the body’s immune system.

They tested the spice compound on cancer cells derived from women with African-American ancestry and women of European origins. Cardamonin was found to kill cancer cells from both groups—but only limit the expression of PD-L1 in European women. Genetic variations between races could explain why the cancer cells responded differently to the spice.

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No wonder the spice is so valuable

By Aviatorjk, CC license

Cardamom (sometimes called cardamon), is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum. Both are native to the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia, and throughout tropical and subtropical Asia. Today, the valuable spice is also cultivated in Guatemala, Malaysia, and Tanzania—and is the third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla.

A common ingredient in Indian cooking and baking in the Nordic countries, cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more smoky aroma, with a coolness some consider similar to mint.

The first references to medicinal cardamom are found in the Ayurvedic literatures of India. The ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Hippocrates also wrote about its therapeutic properties, identifying it as a digestive aid.

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The seeds, oils and extracts have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. One 2009 study showed cardamom significantly decreased blood pressure.

Studies in mice have shown that cardamom powder can increase the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer. A 2012 study showed the potential of cardamom as a preventive agent against stage-2 skin cancer in mice. Research in 2015 showed that a certain compound in the spice stopped oral cancer cells from multiplying in test tubes.

Next, the Florida researchers are planning on testing their cancer-combatting compound in clinical studies. They are also hoping to uncover what mechanisms are driving cardamonin’s anti-cancer properties.

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The findings will be presented at the American Society for Investigative Pathology annual meeting.

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