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Treatment with Bitter Melon Juice Blocks Growth of Pancreatic Cancer Cells

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 25 Mar 2013
Image: Momordica charantia (Photo courtesy of Sayat Arslanlioglu).
Image: Momordica charantia (Photo courtesy of Sayat Arslanlioglu).
Juice of the bitter melon (Momordica charantia), which has been used in natural Asian medicine for treatment of diabetes, was found to kill pancreatic cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo without noticeable toxicity to normal tissues.

Investigators at the University of Colorado (Aurora, USA) worked with cultures of the pancreatic cancer cell lines BxPC-3, MiaPaCa-2, AsPC-1, and Capan-2 and with a xenograft model of MiaPaCa-2 tumors growing in nude mice. The cell cultures were treated with bitter melon juice while the mice were fed lyophilized bitter melon juice for a period of six weeks.

Results published in the March 8, 2013, online edition of the journal Carcinogenesis revealed that bitter melon juiced decreased cell viability in all four pancreatic carcinoma cell lines by inducing strong apoptotic death. Oral administration of lyophilized bitter melon juice for six weeks inhibited MiaPaCa-2 tumor xenograft growth by 60% without noticeable toxicity in nude mice.

At the molecular level, bitter melon juice was shown to activate caspases and alter expression of Bcl2 family members and cytochrome-c release into the cytosol. Additionally, it decreased survivin and XIAP (X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein) but increased p21, CHOP (DNA-damage-inducible transcript 3), and phosphorylated MAPKs (ERK1/2 and p38) levels. In addition, bitter melon juice activated AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a biomarker for cellular energy status. An AMPK inhibitor (Compound C) reversed bitter melon juice-induced caspase 3 activation, suggesting activated-AMPK involvement in the induced apoptosis.

Immunohistochemical analyses of MiaPaCa-2 xenografts showed that bitter melon juice inhibited proliferation, induced apoptosis, and activated AMPK in vivo.

“Three years ago researchers showed the effect of bitter melon extract on breast cancer cells only in a Petri dish. This study goes much, much farther. We used the juice—people especially in Asian countries are already consuming it in quantity. We show that it affects the glucose metabolism pathway to restrict energy and kill pancreatic cancer cells,” said senior author Dr. Rajesh Agarwal, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Colorado. “It is a very exciting finding. Many researchers are engineering new drugs to target cancer cells’ ability to supply themselves with energy, and here we have a naturally-occurring compound that may do just that.”

Related Links:
University of Colorado



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