The Indian long pepper, widely popular for spicing up food, may soon be used as a potential cancer treatment drug, according to a new study. The Indian long pepper contains a chemical that could stop your body from producing an enzyme that is commonly found in tumors in large numbers, according to the study in Journal of Biological Chemistry.
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UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists have uncovered the chemical process behind anti-cancer properties of a spicy Indian pepper plant called the long pepper, whose suspected medicinal properties date back thousands of years.
The secret lies in a chemical called Piperlongumine (PL), which has shown activity against many cancers including prostate, breast, lung, colon, lymphoma, leukemia, primary brain tumors and gastric cancer.
Using x-ray crystallography, researchers were able to create molecular structures that show how the chemical is transformed after being ingested.
PL converts to hPL, an active drug that silences a gene called GSTP1. The GSTP1 gene produces a detoxification enzyme that is often overly abundant in tumors, the study said.
“We are hopeful that our structure will enable additional drug development efforts to improve the potency of PL for use in a wide range of cancer therapies,” said Dr Kenneth Westover, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Radiation Oncology.
“This research is a spectacular demonstration of the power of x-ray crystallography.”
The long pepper, a plant native to India, is found in southern India and southeast Asia. Although rare in European fare, it is commonly found in Indian stores and used as a spice or seasoning in stews and other dishes.
It dates back thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent tied to Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest medical systems.
“This study illustrates the importance of examining and re-examining our theories. In this case we learned something fundamentally new about a 3,000-year-old medical claim using modern science,” said Westover.
X-ray crystallography allows scientists to determine molecular structures that reveal how molecules interact with targets – in this case how PL interacts with GSTP1.
This work is supported by the V Foundation for Cancer Research, founded by ESPN and legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, The Welch Foundation, and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.