Editors' ChoiceCancer Therapy

Bitter Melon: Adding Zing to Breast Cancer Treatment

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Science Translational Medicine  17 Mar 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 23, pp. 23ec43
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001045

The bitter melon—which resembles a somewhat odd-looking cucumber—is aptly named for its bitter taste. Common in Asia, Africa, and South America, the bitter melon may have uses outside of the culinary realm. Researchers from the University of Hawaii have recently reported that bitter melon can reduce cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Extracts of bitter melon were first tested on a set of 35 apoptosis-related proteins in two immortalized human breast cancer cell lines. Application of a 2% solution of the fruit extract for 48 hours increased the cells' apoptotic activity, as shown by induction of the protease caspase-3 and cleavage of PARP, which is a downstream target of caspase-3. Furthermore, the bitter melon extract reduced the amounts of the proteins survivin and claspin, both of which not only induce cell death but also inhibit cell growth. The investigators next evaluated the effects of the extract on the cell cycle: Melon extract appeared to arrest cells at the G2-M transition and reduced levels of cyclin B1 and cyclin D1. Furthermore, two well-known tumor suppressors, p53 and p21, were upregulated by treatment with the melon extract. Overall, the treatment reduced breast cancer cell number by 80%, suggesting a potential new compound that could mediate breast cancer growth and survival. Although bitter melon has been previously reported to reduce plasma lipids and to reduce glucose concentrations in patients with diabetes, the recent findings by Ray et al. expand the potential medicinal role of bitter melon to breast-cancer therapy.

R. B. Ray et al., Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) extract inhibits breast cancer cell proliferation by modulating cell cycle regulatory genes and promotes apoptosis. Cancer Res. 70, 1925–1931 (2010). [Abstract]

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