March 12, 2013 - A University of Colorado Cancer
week in the journal Carcinogenesis shows that bitter
melon juice restricts the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to
metabolize glucose, thus cutting the cells’ energy source and eventually
“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," says Rajesh Agarwal, PhD, co-program
leader of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CU Cancer Center and
professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
"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
Agarwal’s interest came from connecting the dots of
existing research in a novel way. See, diabetes tends to presage
pancreatic cancer and bitter melon has been shown to effect type-II
diabetes, and has been used for centuries against diabetes in the folk
medicines of China and India.
Following this line of thinking, Agarwal and
colleagues wondered what would happen if they closed out the middle man
of diabetes and directly explored the link between bitter melon and
The result, Agarwal says, is, “Alteration in
metabolic events in pancreatic cancer cells and an activation of the
AMP-activated protein kinase, an enzyme that indicates low energy levels
in the cells.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, bitter melon also
regulates insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells. After studies in
cell cultures, the group showed that mouse models of pancreatic cancer
that were fed bitter melon juice were 60 percent less likely to develop
the disease than controls.
“It’s a very exciting finding,” Agarwal says. “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.”
The Agarwal Lab is now applying for grants that
will allow them to move the study of bitter melon into further
chemoprevention trials in mouse models of pancreatic cancer.
This work was supported in part by National
Institutes of Health grants R01 CA112304 and R01 AT003623
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