The abilities of an acid that is naturally produced in the liver during digestion, called Lithocholic acid (LCA) have seriously been underestimated until now. According to a study led by Concordia University published in Oncotarget, LCA can kill several types of cancer cells, including those found in some brain tumors and breast cancer.

The research team, which included scientists from McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute in Montreal as well as the University of Saskatchewan established in earlier research that LCA also extends the lifespan of aging yeast. In the new study the team discovered that LCA is very selective in killing cancer cells whilst leaving normal cells unharmed. The discovery could pave the way for a major improvement of existing chemotherapy drugs.

Senior author Vladimir Titorenko, a professor in the Department of Biology and Concordia University Research Chair in Genomics, Cell Biology and Aging declared:

“LCA doesn’t just kill individual cancer cells. It could also prevent the entire tumor from growing.”

Furthermore, LCA stops tumors from releasing substances that cause growth and proliferation in neighboring cancer cells. According to Titorenko LCA is the only compound able to targets cancer cells, which could mean that it has the power to halt tumors.

He declares: “This is important for preventing cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body,” and points out that unlike other anti-aging compounds, LCA prevents the growth of cancer cells but still allows normal cells to continue to grow.

The team will be testing LCA’s effects on different cancers in mice models in their future research. Titorenko anticipates that the LCA will also kill cancer cells in those experiments and subsequently lead to human clinical trials.

He says:

“Our study found that LCA kills not only tumors (neuroblastomas), but also human breast cancer cells. This shows that it has a wide effect on different types of cancers.”

Titorenko highlights that in contrast to current drugs used in chemotherapy, LCA is a natural compound that is already present in our bodies.

Studies have proven that LCA can be safely administered to mice by adding it to their food, which raises the question to why LCA is so deadly for cancer cells? According to Titorenko belief cancer cells possess more sensors for LCA, making them more sensitive to the compound compared with normal cells.

LCA sensors transmit signals to mitochondria, the powerhouses of all cells, and it appears that when these signals are too strong, the mitochondria self-destruct bringing the cell down with them. To put it simply Titorenko and his team engaged in cancer cell sabotage by employing LCA to target weaknesses in cancerous cells.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Concordia University Research Chair program.

Written by Petra Rattue