Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that a compound derived from curcumin helps cells overcome the treatment failure of head and neck cancer. Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid of the popular Indian spice turmeric.
When researchers added a curcumin-based compound, called FLLL32, to head and neck cancer cell lines, they were able to cut the dose of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin by four while still killing tumor cells equally as well as the higher dose of cisplatin without FLLL32.
“This work opens the possibility of using lower, less toxic doses of cisplatin to achieve an equivalent or enhanced tumor kill. Typically, when cells become resistant to cisplatin, we have to give increasingly higher doses. But this drug is so toxic that patients who survive treatment often experience long-term side effects from the treatment,” said senior author Thomas Carey, professor of otolaryngology and pharmacology at the U-M Medical School.
That tumors become resistant to cisplatin is a major reason why head and neck cancer patients frequently see their cancer return or spread. It also plays a big role in why five-year survival for head and neck cancer has not improved in the past three decades.
In the current study, researchers compared varying doses of cisplatin alone with varying doses of cisplatin plus FLLL32 against two sets of head and neck cancer cells: one line that was sensitive to cisplatin and one line that was resistant.
They found that FLLL32 decreased the activation levels of STAT3, sensitizing both resistant and sensitive tumor cells to cisplatin. Further, lower doses of cisplatin with FLLL32 were equally effective at killing cancer cells as the higher doses of cisplatin alone.
The study is detailed in Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.