Dr Catherine Kaschula, a lecturer in the department of Chemistry at UCT, presented new research findings regarding garlic's cancer-fighting properties, at the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) Research in Action Conference in Stellenbosch. Dr Kaschula and her research team established how a compound found in crushed cloves of garlic, known as ajoene, killed cancer cells.
Ajoene is one of the main compounds formed when heating crushed garlic. Using the compound on breast cancer cells and human oesophageal cancer cells, researchers showed that ajoene was not only toxic to these cancer cells, but they also established how the compound exerted its toxic effect on the cancer protein. Dr Kaschula used synthetic organic chemistry techniques to clip a fluorescent tag onto the compound, ajoene, which enabled them to track the movement of the compound in the cancer cell by visualising the fluorescence. This showed how the ajoene penetrates cancer cells and sticks itself to proteins within a certain party of the cell, causing the cancer cell to die.
While this specific research was only conducted on breast and oesophageal cancer cells, previous studies have shown that ajoene was toxic to many other types of cancer. Kaschula said that the latest findings reaffirm existing research that dietary garlic lowered the risk of cancer. "Our findings provide an explanation as to why ajoene is toxic to cancer cells. For the first time we have been able to show that it targets the Endoplasmic Reticulum of cancer cells where it interferes with the folding or newly synthesised proteins," she said. While much of this research is at an early stage, it offers hope in the face of the huge increase of cancer in South Africa.
The team working on this is an international one and the members of the group are from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Italy, Germany, France and USA. Quite a force to be reckoned with!
The International Garlic Team: (from left to right)
Front: Kevin Dzobo, Sophie Rees-Jones, Vuyolwethu Siyo
Middle: Ellen Ngarande, Rossana Tuveri, Fabien Servan, Chesa Cox
Back: Daniel Kusza, Catherine Kaschula, Roger Hunter & M Iqbal Parker
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