By Jenny Stamos
Can this tropical plant fight cancer?
Besides its tasty fruit, the pineapple plant may yield an even sweeter benefit: the ability to fight cancer. The power source is an enzyme called bromelain, better known for its meat-tenderizing ability than for its use as a pharmaceutical. Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, have found compounds within bromelain, dubbed CCS and CCZ, which “can inhibit the growth of a broad range of tumor cells,” says lead author Tracey Mynott, Ph.D., “including lung, colon, breast and ovarian tumors, as well as melanoma.”
Mynott and her colleagues found that in the test tube, CCS blocked a protein that’s present in about 30 percent of cancers, while CCZ helped stimulate specific immune cells to target and kill cancer cells. Moreover, unlike many current cancer therapies, the compounds seemed to target only cancer cells without harming healthy ones. If further study confirms this selective action, it could translate to fewer side effects.
If you’re looking to prevent cancer, however, don’t start devouring pineapple chunks just yet. “Unfortunately, these molecules are in the stem of the plant,” says Mynott—not in the fruit itself—and CCS and CCZ have so far been tested only as an injection. Bromelain supplements aren’t a solution either: they contain only tiny amounts of CCS and CCZ and are toxic in large doses. Further studies, soon under way, may yield answers. But the idea that a potential new class of anticancer agents might come from a tropical fruit plant is as beguiling as a piña colada.