Thymoquinone, the major constituent of the oil extract from a Middle Eastern herbal seed called Nigella sativa, exhibited anti-inflammatory properties that reduced the release of inflammatory mediators in pancreatic cancer cells.
Nigella sativa seeds and oil are used in traditional medicine by many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Previous studies have also shown it to have anti-cancer effects on prostate and colon cancers.
Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, nigella sativa helps treat a broad array of diseases, including some immune and inflammatory disorders.
Based upon their previously published findings that thymoquinone inhibits histone deacetylases (HDACs), Dr. Arafat and her colleagues compared the anti-inflammatory properties of thymoquinone and trichostatin A, an HDAC inhibitor that has previously shown to ameliorate inflammation-associated cancers.
The herb also inhibited the activation and synthesis of NF-kappaB, a transcription factor that has been implicated in inflammation-associated cancer. Activation of NF-kappaB has been observed in pancreatic cancer and may be a factor in pancreatic cancer's resistance to chemotherapeutic agents. When animal models of pancreatic cancer were treated with thymoquinone, 67 percent of the tumors were significantly shrunken, and the levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the tumors were significantly reduced.
Inflammation has been implicated in the development of several solid tumor malignancies. Chronic pancreatitis, both hereditary and sporadic, is associated with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with approximately 32,000 deaths a year. Only five percent of individuals with pancreatic cancer live for at least one year after diagnosis.