Scientists discover natural compound in palm oil kills breast cancer cells

First tocotrienol study to identify upstream regulators that mediate breast cancer progression and invasion

02-Dec-2009 - Singapore

Scientists from Davos Life Science Singapore have partnered with the Li Ka Shing Faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong and the Australian prostate cancer Research Centre, to show that a compound found naturally in palm oil kills breast cancer cells. The compound, called gammatocotrienol is found at low levels in food sources such as palm oil, barley and rice bran. In this cancer cell line study, gamma-tocotrienol, which was extracted in its natural form from palm oil, demonstrated powerful cancer killing properties. During in-vitro experiments, the natural compound demonstrated greater potency than Docetaxel, a commonly-used chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer. This is the first tocotrienol study to identify the key upstream regulators that mediate breast cancer progression and invasion.

The research discovered that gamma-tocotrienol targets cancer cells by inhibiting Id1, which is a key cancer-promoting protein. This triggers cell apoptosis, causing the cancer cells to self-destruct. More importantly, the ability of gamma-tocotrienol to inhibit Id1 was also observed in prostate cancer and melanoma in separate research studies conducted by Davos Life Science Singapore, in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong. This suggests a common mechanism for gammatocotrienol in reversing cancer growth. The compound was also found to suppress the invasive ability of breast cancer cells to spread to other organs via metastasis.

While the doses of gamma-tocotrienol showed positive anti-cancer effects, they did not affect the normal cell functions of healthy cells. Furthermore, the same study showed that gamma-tocotrienol enhanced the cancer killing effect of Docetaxel.

This study was published in Cancer Letters.

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