Brock research has uncovered a connection between a common household herb and the reduction of lung cancer cell growth.
A recent study into rosemary began with Evangelina Tsiani’s longstanding interest in polyphenols — chemical compounds that are mostly found in plants people eat.
The associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences wanted to know more about the polyphenols, sometimes referred to as antioxidants, found in the common herb.
Polyphenols provide micronutrients that are believed to help to prevent diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
“We have some evidence that rosemary extract stops the growth of cancer cells,” Tsiani said. “The question is: how is this done? What is the mechanisms of action to inhibit cancer cell proliferation?”
Tsiani, her graduate student Jessy Moore and colleagues from the Departments of Health Sciences, Kinesiology and the Centre for Bone and Muscle Health, set out to see if, and how, rosemary extract stops the growth of cancer cells.
At the core of the research is understanding cell signalling — a complex communications system that regulates basic activities and co-ordinates actions within a cell, resulting in such processes as normal cell development and growth and tissue repair.
Through her research, Tsiani looks at ‘signalling pathways,’ a series of chemical reactions that transmit information within the cell, resulting in a specific action.
Cancer cells are created when there are errors in the way a cell processes information during a signalling pathway, often through mutations in one or more molecules.
Certain signalling pathways are over-activated, leading to their uncontrolled growth and quick multiplication. Cancer cells also override a process called apoptosis, where a cell programs itself to die.
The research team grew non-small lung cancer cells in its lab. These cells are found in up to 80 per cent of all lung cancer cases and represent the most aggressive form of the disease.
The team exposed these cells to rosemary extract and studied the extract’s impacts on a signalling pathway called Akt and on certain proteins within the pathway.
The team found that the rosemary extract:
- Stopped the survival and spread of cancer cells and enhanced the process of apoptosis, or pre-programmed cell death
- Blocked the Akt signalling pathway that would have caused the cancer cells to multiply
- Stopped certain proteins in the cancer cells from being activated
Their findings are published in the study “Rosemary extract reduces Akt/mTOR/p70S6K activation and inhibits proliferation and survival of A549 human lung cancer cells,” published in the October 2016 issue of the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.
“These finding are very important,” Tsiani said. “Our data suggest that rosemary extract may have considerable anti-tumor and chemoprevention properties in lung cancer and deserves further systematic investigation.
“Finding drugs or chemicals that inhibit these pathways is the focus of many researchers. The pharmaceutical industry invests heavily in this field,” she said.
The team also produced a review paper “Anticancer Effects of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) Extract and Rosemary Extract Polyphenols” published in the November 2016 issue of the journal Nutrients.
Tsiani cautioned it is too soon to tell people to eat more rosemary to prevent or stop lung cancer.
The next step in the research, she said, is to “find the chemicals or components of rosemary extract that are responsible for these anti-cancer effects.”
Rosemary contains two major polyphenols: carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid.
“These two polyphenols might be the main chemicals that have the anti-cancer effects,” said Tsiani, “and we have initiated studies exploring this possibility.”