Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, have figured out how the compound responsible for chilli's heat kills prostate cancer cells. The findings suggest that the chilli compound capsaicin could one day be used to develop effective anti-cancer drugs in the form of an injection or pill.
In this study, researchers Ashok Kumar Mishra and Jitendriya Swain found that in high doses the compound causes cell membranes to come apart. About 10 years ago, researchers reported that capsaicin can kill prostate cancer cells in mice while leaving healthy cells unharmed. But translating that dose to humans would require them to eat a huge number of chilli peppers per day. The experts tried to gain a deeper understanding of capsaicin's effects so it might be harnessed in the future for new medicines.
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The scientists were able to detect how the compound interacts with cell membranes by monitoring its natural fluorescence. The study showed that capsaicin lodges in the membranes near the surface. Add enough of it, and the capsaicin essentially causes the membranes to come apart.
The findings appeared in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.