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Home Health Chemical found in popular candy suppresses ‘silent killer’ pancreatic cancer, study indicates

Chemical found in popular candy suppresses ‘silent killer’ pancreatic cancer, study indicates

by nytime
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A chemical found in black licorice could help fight one of the world’s deadliest cancers, a first-of-its-kind study suggests.

A study on mice found the flavonoid isoliquiritigenin (ISL), which is in licorice root, an herb widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, could kill pancreatic cancer cells. 

Researchers in Hong Kong also found the compound could make treatments like chemotherapy more effective.

Study leader Dr Joshua Ko Ka-Shun said: ‘This compound is worth considering for further development into a new generation of chemotherapy treatment.’

‘[Pancreatic cancer] is difficult to identify, and usually at a late stage when it is detected, with not many treatment options available. Finding a suitable treatment is urgent.’

Isoliquiritigenin (ISL) is a compound found in black licorice. Researchers in Hong Kong found that it could suppress the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and make certain types of chemotherapy more effective

Isoliquiritigenin (ISL) is a compound found in black licorice. Researchers in Hong Kong found that it could suppress the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and make certain types of chemotherapy

The National Cancer Institute estimates that just over 44 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than five years if the condition is still localized to its original area. It has an average survival rate of 12 percent

The National Cancer Institute estimates that just over 44 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than five years if the condition is still localized to its original area. It has an average survival rate of 12 percent

When ISL was injected into tumors, the survival rate of those cancer cells dropped by 50 to 80 percent, depending on the dosage. 

About 11 to 13 percent of cells entered late-stage apoptosis, or cell death, compared to less than five percent of cells that didn’t receive ISL. 

‘ISL possesses a unique property of inhibiting pancreatic cancer progression through the blockade of autophagy, which is a natural process where the body’s cells clean out damaged or unnecessary components,’ Dr Ko said.

‘The blockade of late-stage autophagy in our experiments results in cancer cell death.’

The researchers also tested ISL’s effects on the chemotherapy drugs gemcitabine (GEM) and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). 

These drugs tend to have low success rates, as low as 10 percent, and many patients become resistant to them after a few months of treatment. 

But the team found that adding ISL to GEM suppressed cancer cell growth by 18 percent, and adding it to 5-FU blocked growth by 30 percent. 

Pancreatic cancer is the third deadliest form of the disease in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute, after lung and colorectal cancers.

On average, just 12.5 percent survive after five years.

The NCI estimates that more than half of these cases are diagnosed after the disease has already spread to other organs because the early symptoms, such as jaundice and abdominal pain, are easy to overlook. 

When the cancer reaches later stages, the survival rate dwindles as low as three percent. 

This has caused pancreatic cancer to be dubbed a ‘silent killer.’ 

Cases are on the rise as well. In the US, the disease incidence has increased by one percent every year since 2000, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Globally, cases have doubled since 1990, a 2019 study in The Lancet estimated. 

The research is still early, and Dr Ko urged the public not to consume large amounts of licorice to prevent cancer. 

However, the team is optimistic that ISL could be used in treatments within the next several years. 

‘The findings in this study open a new avenue for developing ISL as a novel autophagy inhibitor in the treatment of pancreatic cancer,’ Dr Ko said. 

‘We hope to collaborate with other research partners to further evaluate the effectiveness and potential clinical application of ISL in treating pancreatic cancer.’

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