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Bitter gourd could cure breast cancer: Indian-American researcher

March 23, 2010 23:58 IST

Bitter gourd, a commonly used vegetable in India, may hold the key to curing breast cancer, says an Indian-American researcher at Saint Louis University.

Ratna Ray, professor in the department of pathology at Saint Louis University and lead researcher, said the extracts from bitter gourd showed promise in killing breast cancer cells and preventing them from multiplying.

She said the effects of the bitter gourd extract took her by surprise.

"To our knowledge, this is the first report describing the effect of bitter gourd extract on cancer cells," said Ray. "Our result was encouraging. We have shown that bitter gourd extract significantly induces death in breast cancer cells and decreases their growth and spread."

Ray said she had decided to study the impact of bitter gourd extract on breast cancer cells because research had shown the substance lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Bitter gourd extract was commonly used as a folk medicine to treat diabetes in China and India, she said.

Ray conducted her research using human breast cancer cells in a controlled lab setting. The next step, she says, is to test the extract in an animal model. If those results are positive, human trials could follow.

Ray said while it was too early to know for sure whether bitter gourd extract would help breast cancer patients, the matter was worth studying. 'There have been significant advances in breast cancer treatment. However, women continue to die of the disease and new treatment strategies are essential,' she said.

The research was published in the March 1 edition of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

'Cancer prevention by the use of naturally occurring dietary substances is considered a practical approach to reduce the ever-increasing incidence of cancer. Studying a high-risk breast cancer population where bitter gourd is taken as a dietary product will be an important area of future research,' Ray said.

Ray, however, cautioned against seeing bitter gourd extract as a miracle cure. 'Bitter gourd is common in China and India, and women there still get breast cancer,' she noted.

Research at Saint Louis University School of Medicine seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York