An article written by Ana Sandoiu reveals that research has identified different subtypes of breast cancer that respond to varying treatment types. The so-called triple-negative breast cancer is especially aggressive and difficult to treat but new research may have uncovered a molecule that slows down this type of cancer.
The most prevalent form of cancer in women around the world is breast cancer, with almost 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012. This is also the most common form of cancer in women in the U.S., regardless of the race or ethnicity.
There is genetic research that has enabled scientists to classify breast cancer into subtypes that respond differently to different kinds of treatment and are categorized according to the presence or absence of three receptors known to promote breast cancer. Estrogen, progesterone and the epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) are those receptors.
Those types of cancer that test negatively for HER2, estrogen and progesterone are called triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative cancer is more difficult to treat according to some studies, so chemotherapy is the only option.
There is new research from the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany that tested the effects of a spicy molecule on cultivated tumor cells of this aggressive type of cancer. Dr. Hanns Hatt and Dr. Lea Weber were the researchers who collaborated with several institutions in Germany. The effect of an active ingredient commonly found in chili or pepper called capsaicin, was tested on SUM149PT cell culture, which is a model for triple-negative breast cancer. It has been suggested that several transient receptor potential (TRP) channels influence cancer cell growth, which motivated the scientists. The TRP channels are membranous ion channels that conduct calcium and sodium ions and can be influenced by several stimuli including temperature or pH changes. The olfactory receptor TRPV1 is one of the TRP channels that play a significant role in the development of several diseases and received a lot of attention from researchers. Researches aimed to investigate the expression of TRP channels in breast cancer tissue, as well as to analyze and understand how TRPV1 could be used in the breast cancer therapy.
Several typical olfactory receptors were found in the cultivated cells. These are proteins that bind smell molecules together and are located on olfactory receptor cells lining the nose. The TRPV1 receptor appeared very frequently. This receptor is normally found in the 5th cranial nerve called the trigeminal nerve. The receptor is activated by the spicy molecule capsaicin as well as by helional, which is a chemical compound giving the scent of fresh sea breeze.
The team found TRPV1 in the tumor cells of 9 different samples from the breast cancer patients. They then added capsaicin and helional to the culture for several hours or days, which activated the TRPV1 receptor in the cell culture. This resulted in the cancer cells dying more slowly. Tumor cells died in larger numbers and those remaining were not able to move as quickly as before; suggesting their ability to metastasize was reduced.
Their conclusions were that an intake of capsaicin through food or inhalation would be insufficient to treat triple-negative cancer but specially designed drugs might help. By switching on the TRPV1 reception with those drugs, it might constitute a new treatment approach for this type of cancer.
Dr Fredda Branyon