November 25, 2013
Riya V. Anandwala
314.977.8018

Bitter Melon Extract May Have Potential to Fight Head and Neck Cancer

Preliminary findings show bitter melon reduces cancer cell growth in animal model

ST. LOUIS - Extract taken from an Asian vegetable may have therapeutic qualities to treat head and neck cancer, a Saint Louis University researcher has found.

Preliminary findings of the research were published in the Public Library of Science One Journal by Ratna Ray, Ph.D. associate professor of pathology at Saint Louis University. Ray found that bitter melon extract, a vegetable commonly used in Indian and Chinese diets, reduces the head and neck cancer cell growth in the animal model.

Ratna Ray
Ratna Ray, Ph.D., is an associate professor of pathology
at Saint Louis University.

"We wanted to see the effect of the bitter melon extract treatment on different types of cancer using different model systems," said Ray, who first tested the extract in breast and prostate cancer cells. "In this study, the bitter melon extract treatment suppressed the head and neck cancer cell growth in the mouse model, reducing the growth of the tumor."

In a controlled lab setting, Ray found that bitter melon extract regulated several pathways that helped reduce the head and neck cancer cell growth in the animal model. After a period of four weeks, Ray found that the growth and volume of the tumor had reduced.

Bitter melon is a tropical vegetable that is commonly used in Indian and Chinese cooking. Ray, who is originally from India, often uses bitter melon in her meals. People in Asia use this vegetable in stir fries, salads, and also drink its juice as part of a healthy diet.

Although more research is needed, Ray believes the bitter melon extract may enhance the current treatment option.

"It's difficult to measure the exact impact of bitter melon extract treatment on the cell growth, but a combination of things - existing drug therapy along with bitter melon - may help the efficacy of the overall cancer treatment," Ray said.

Head and neck cancers, which account for 6 percent of all cancer cases, start in the mouth, nose, sinuses, voicebox and throat. They frequently are aggressive, and often spread from one part of the head or neck to another.

Before moving to phase I clinical trial with head and neck cancer patients, Ray said she and her team would need to validate their results with other preclinical models.
Ray's initial research found that treatment with this natural substance halted the breast and prostate cancer cell growth, eventually stopping them from spreading.

This research was funded by grant from the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust. Established by Lottie Caroline Hardy at the time of her death from brain cancer in 1979, the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust provides funding for the benefit and research into the cause and cure of cancer, heart disease, arthritis and emphysema. The trust's award to Ray is the fourth given to a SLU researcher.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.

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