Cape Town - We all know that garlic has both culinary and medicinal benefits, but researchers have now also uncovered garlic’s cancer-fighting properties.
Garlic, also known as allium sativum, belongs to the allium class of bulb-shaped plants, which also includes onions, chives, leeks, and scallions.
In new research, UCT lecturer Dr Catherine Kaschula and her research team established how a compound found in crushed cloves of garlic, known as ajoene, killed cancer cells.
Ajoene is one of the main compounds formed when heating crushed garlic.
Using the compound on breast cancer cells and human oesophageal cancer cells, researchers showed that ajoene was not only toxic to these cancer cells, but they also established how the compound exerted its toxic effect on the cancer protein.
Kaschula, a lecturer in the university’s department of chemistry, presented her new findings at the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) Research in Action Conference in Stellenbosch. She used synthetic organic chemistry techniques to clip a fluorescent tag onto ajoene. This enabled them to track the movement of the compound in the cancer cell by visualising the fluorescence.
“We found that the ‘tagged’ ajoene localises to a specific organelle in the cancer cell called the Endoplasmic Reticulum. This is a place where newly synthesised proteins are folded before they are sent to their specific sites. We found that ajoene exerts its toxic effect by interfering with protein folding in the endoplasmic reticulum of the cancer cell. This leads to an accumulation of misfolded proteins which aggregate together and the aggregates are toxic to the cells. So in a way it is the very own proteins of the cancer cell which end up poisoning it,” said Kaschula.
While this research was only conducted on breast and oesophageal cancer cells, previous studies had also shown that ajoene was toxic to many other types of cancer.
Kaschula said the latest findings reaffirmed existing research that dietary garlic lowered the risk of cancer.
“Our findings provide an explanation as to why ajoene is toxic to cancer cells. For the first time we have been able to show that it targets the Endoplasmic Reticulum of cancer cells where it interferes with the folding or newly synthesised proteins,” she said.