Curcumin, pepper, ginger, garlic have found their way into the labs of premier universities across the United States with Indian American scientists beginning to test natural products for treatment of cancer.

“Almost every group is thinking and conducting animal and clinical trials from natural products for treatment of different cancers,” said Prof. Shrikant Anant of University of Kansas Medical Centre, U.S. The first phase of clinical trial conducted by his research team has found curcumin to be safe. Orally administering 12 grams per day for three months, curcumin was found to inhibit proliferation of cells.

Prof. Bal L. Lokeshwar, Radiation Oncology, University of Miami, has conducted trials on transgenic animals using BIRM, an Andean plant extract, that has been found to down regulate androgen receptor and showing anti-tumour activity in prostate cancer.

“The androgen receptor (AR) levels and activities are critical for prostate cancer progression. Down regulating AR may slow or halt prostate cancer progression,” he said.

The trials have shown that there are no side-effects as the animals did not develop symptoms of diarrohea, heart trouble or weight loss as seen during treatment of humans with cancer, he said.

“The next step will be to conduct clinical trials and it needs funding,” said Prof. Lokeshwar. Most of the speakers at the session on development of novel drugs for therapy and prevention at the Indian Science Congress were Indian Americans.

Prof. Ahimesh Dhar of the University of Kansas has used Crocetin, a novel compound derived from saffron, for preventing growth and proliferation in pancreatic cancer.

Orally giving Crocetin along with milk to mice, he said the tumour was found to have shrunk to half. The tumour size more than doubled on the other group of mice which were not administered Crocetin, he said adding that clinical trials would begin soon.

Preliminary studies of Prof. Addanki P. Kumar, of University of Texas Health Science Centre, using Nexrutine, a herbal extract and a non-toxic over the counter anti-inflammatory agent has found to inhibit the growth of AR human prostate cancer cells and mouse prostate cells representing different stages of progression.

Cancer patients have accepted the concept of alternative medicine as a supplementary treatment and are using over 50 natural compounds mostly by way of self-medication. Scientifically-validated natural supplements could provide a toxic-free and effective alternative cancer management, Prof. Lokeshwar said.

In the U.S., mostly Indian Americans and Chinese Americans are pioneering research in the use of natural products for cancer treatment, Prof. Anant said.