Using chilli peppers in the fight against cancer

Researchers have found that the compound which gives chillies their heat is able to kill certain cancer cells.

Capsaicin, the compound responsible for chillies heat, is used in creams sold to help relive muscle and joint aches. Now, recent research has found that, used in high doses, the compound kills prostate cancer cells. Researchers are currently finding clues that help explain how the substance works. Their conclusions suggest that one day it could be made available in a new therapeutic form.

About 10 years ago, researchers reported that the capsaicin can kill prostate cancer cells in mice while leaving healthy cells unharmed. But translating that dose to humans would require them to eat a huge number of chilli peppers every day. Figuring out how capsaicin works could help researches transform it into an effective and viable drug in the form of an injection or pill.

Researchers have figured out, however, that the molecule binds to a cell’s surface and affects the membrane, which surrounds and protects the cell. That finding prompted scientists Ashok Kumar Mishra and Jitendriya Swain to try and glean a deeper understanding of capsaicin’s effects so it might be harnessed for medicines in the future.

The scientists were able to detect how the compound interacts with cell membranes by monitoring its natural fluorescence. The study revealed that capsaicin lodges in the membranes near the surface. Add enough of it, and the compound essentially causes the membranes to come apart. With the additional research, the insight could help lead to novel tools against cancer or other conditions.

Based on materials from The American Chemical Society and The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.