The latex sap or juice in the vegetable contains lectins, a diverse class of proteins that destroyed cancerous tumour cells in mice, a group of Indian scientists has published in the scientific journal, International Immunopharmacology, earlier this month.
The scientists have also found that the proteins affec ted human cancer cells kept in a petri dish in a laboratory. “The lectins stop the growth of new blood vessels. Cancer cells draw nutrition from new blood vessels at a much faster pace than normal blood vessels. Studies have shown that most of the tumours do not grow without a newly formed blood vessel.So, once we block the formation of new vessels, we stun the growth and reduce multiplication of cancer cells,” said Prabhu Thirusangu, a doctoral student at Kuvempu University and one of the authors of the study.
The research team, which was led by Dr B T Prabhakar and Dr S N Pramod from Kuvempu University based at Shivamogga in Karnataka, said that the study provided evidence to show that lectins in the bottle gourd could be explored as a promising cure for cancer therapeutics.
The vegetable has a history of cultivation that dates back almost 10,000 years, according to several archaeological findings. Several traditional Indian medical texts even prescribe it for the treatment of various health problems, including weight loss and diabetes. “But we never thought it might have anticancer properties. We had this vegetable in the lab for a different study . When I accidentally pricked it, a generous amount of latex oozed out. I just dropped a few microlitres on chick blood cells and we saw lectins,” said V Vigneshwaran, the first author of the research paper.
The long quest by scientists for anti-cancer drugs is increasingly leading them to the kitchen. Many past studies have indicated the anticancer potential in spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and coriander. Although there is no magic compound to cure cancer completely, scientists are finding ways to inhibit the growth of tumour cells. “Lectins present in the bottle gourd could be explored as a promising cure for cancer therapeutics,” said Vigneshwaran.