A spice in most people’s pantry may hold the key to beating prostate cancer.
Over the past four years, Lauren Giorgio, who is part of the Cancer Biology Group at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research in South Australia, has been investigating an innovative potential therapy for the disease. The focus of her work has been on Curcumin, which is one component of the common household spice Turmeric.
Curcmin has been around for thousands of years, but only recently have researchers begun investigating its medicinal properties. In the case of Ms Giorgio’s prostate cancer PhD project, she is interested in its anti-cancer properties.
“I’m looking at the effect of curcmin not only on prostate cancer cells, but also the cells surrounding the prostate. These cells are critical drivers of tumour growth,” said Ms Giorgio.
“But one of the problems with curcumin is that its poorly soluble and broken down very quickly, so it doesn’t hang around in the body long enough to have a positive impact.”
In collaboration with The Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Chemistry Department, they have developed compounds that encapsulate the curcumin molecule and protect it from degradation.
As her work is mainly lab-based, Ms Giorgio hasn’t had very much interaction with prostate cancer patients, but recently she met someone who further inspired her work.
“Paddy was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic prostate cancer in 2009 and was told he would not see Christmas that year. But incredibly he survived more than two years longer than predicted,” she said.
“Within minutes, Paddy’s positivity and passion for life reminded me of how important it is that we continue to look for new treatments for prostate cancer that will help more men outlive their prognoses.”
Ms Giorgio said it’s incredibly motivating to know she has the training required to make a difference to men with prostate cancer and their families.
“A prostate cancer diagnosis not only affects the man, but also his wife, children and even grandchildren. If the cancer isn’t caught early, often the chances of survival aren’t good and it’s incredibly sad.”
Preliminary studies show a specific molecule is successful at protecting curcumin from degradation, without compromising its anti-cancer activity.
“This is exciting progress and a positive step towards a successful prostate cancer therapy.”
The research findings also mean that curcumin could potentially be used to more effectively treat a whole range of diseases including other cancers, heart disease, arthritis and some mental disorders.
When not in the lab, Ms Giorgio has been active in spreading the word amongst the public about the importance of prostate cancer prevention by presenting to community groups and speaking on radio.
“I am proud to have spent the last 4 years of my life working on such a worthwhile project. So many men are not proactive about getting checked for prostate cancer and I hope that the work I’ve done, both in the lab and within the community, will have a positive impact and ultimately, save lives.”