In a first of its kind study, assessing anti-cancer properties of ginger as a whole instead of the plant's individual components, scientists at Georgia State University have discovered, that whole ginger extract has promising cancer-preventing activity in prostate cancer.
According to an online article in FirstView published in the British Journal of Nutrition, Associate professor of Biology, Ritu Aneja discovered in her lab, that ginger extract had significant effects in stopping the growth of cancer cells, as well as in inducing cell death in a spectrum of prostate cancer cells.
In addition, animal studies revealed that the extract did not show significant toxicity to normal tissues, such as bone marrow. Research revealed very good tumor regression by up to 60 percent, and no toxicity whatsoever.
Despite much research having been performed on anti-cancer properties in ginger, Aneja's lab prefers to take a more holistic approach to investigate the types of molecules involved. She does not believe individual compounds are solely responsible for the extract's anti-cancer properties and considers it to be a synergistic interplay of components, enabling scientists to use much smaller amounts of extract to benefit from its properties instead of using a single chemical.
Data evaluation shows that humans would have to consume only about 3½ ounces of whole ginger extract in their daily diet to achieve the beneficial effects.
Aneja's lab prefers to seek natural, non-toxic ways to combat cancer, using kinder, gentler drugs and plant compounds because current approaches cause major and debilitating side effects.
To detect beneficial properties in plant extracts is a high lywork-intensive process in order to establish what exact chemical compounds in the extract provide the preventative effect, or kill cancer cells.
"Although it might seem easy to work with plant extracts, it is not so, because there are zillions of compounds and other complex derivatives in there, and we don't know which ones are the good ones. Moreover, the compounds we are seeking to identify may be low in abundance, but they may be very important and cannot be disregarded."
The work was started by dedicated and persistent undergrad, Vibhuti "Simran" Sharma, now an environmental chemist for the Southern Company; one of Aneja's numerous undergraduate research students she mentored.
"I did a lot of background research, and found several published papers on ginger, but discovered that there was nothing much done on the whole extract, especially in prostate cancer - a slow growing, long-latency cancer amenable to chemopreventive strategies. Most of the literature focused on only one compound found in ginger."
To enable undergraduate students to study independently in a stimulating and motivational environment, Aneja combines guidance with independent exploration. Sharma continued to educate herself about techniques and protocols and took it upon herself to convert three pounds of ginger into the extract for the study.
Getting the extract to freeze dry was a three-week process of trial and error for Sharma as it turned from ice into a solid but reverted into a liquid, initially.
After experimenting with prostate, breast and cervical cancer cells, she discovered that most cells responded positive to the extract. Aneja's lab took the research further in prostate cancer and Sharma, a graduate herself now, continues to assist in Aneja's lab with the production of more whole ginger extract for further fractionation and ongoing efficacy studies.
"I never knew it could get so big. It's unbelievable. It's great being able to say that I was just an undergrad when I started this research, and now it's being published just a year after I graduated. I take a lot of pride in it, but it would not be possible without the help from everyone in the lab."
Written by Petra Rattue