JAN 06, 2016 06:40 AM PST

Saffron Molecule Prevents Liver Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
In addition to enhancing the flavors of foods, saffron – the world’s priciest spice – may also prevent liver cancer.
Saffron threads
A team of researchers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) University announced in a new study that a saffron-based “crocin” biomolecule has the ability to protect against a deadly form of liver cancer, known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

At a staggering $5,000 to 10,000 per pound, the cost of the saffron spice rivals that of gold. This “red gold,” as saffron is sometimes called, is prized for its unique aromatics that can’t be duplicated in any other form. More than 150 molecules give saffron its unique aroma and color characteristics. Among them, crocin is the main carotenoid compound that’s responsible for saffron’s distinctive reddish hue. Crocin is known to be a powerful antioxidant that’s been linked to many healthy benefits such as relieving symptoms of depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
 

Lead by professor Amr Amin, the team of researchers zeroed in on crocin and asked whether this biomolecule has anti-cancer effects in a rat model of liver cancer. They also analyzed gene expression patterns in mouse tissues of HCC treated and untreated with crocin. Finally, they exposed a liver cancer cell line (HepG2) to various crocin concentrations and assessed cell viability.

The researchers found that crocin prevented the cancer cells from growing and induced more cancer cells to die. In gene expression analysis, they found that crocin inhibited a protein complex NF-kB that’s produced as part of the body’s inflammatory response. Together, the researchers conclude that crocin shows anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic, and anti-inflammatory properties against HCC.

Of course this result is in the setting of a lab with an induced liver cancer cell line. However, the findings “introduce crocin as a candidate chemopreventative agent against hepatocellular carcinoma,” and identified a potential mechanism for how the crocin molecule in saffron exerts its anti-tumor effects cancer. The study also identified “NF-kB as a potential regulatory hub, and therefore, a candidate therapeutic drug target.”

Sources: Article via Recent Patents on Anti-Cancer Drug Discovery 
 
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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