Asma Ali Zain
It may be an expensive spice but you cannot put a label or price on health, said Professor Amr Amin who has researched a breakthrough in the properties of saffron in fighting liver cancer.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Professor Amin from Cellular & Molecular Biology at United Arab Emirates University said that researchers have investigated and found saffron to have anti-liver cancer properties.
“Safranal, a major biomolecule of the golden spice saffron arrests and stops the cancer cell division at two different stages,” he said.
“It can now be made into drugs and we are looking into whether the same can be used to fight breast and colorectal cancers as well,” said Prof Amin.
The UAE researchers have been working on this project since 2011 when they first published the research in the Hepatology Journal.
The study suggests a novel mechanism of anti-proliferative activity of safranal against human liver cancer cells.
“This molecule could serve as a novel and/or adjuvant drug to treat liver cancer,” said Dr Amin.
The findings are now also published in a Nature journal Scientific Reports.
The work is in collaboration with experts in RNAseq analysis and System Biology from New York University Abu Dhabi and in Pharmacology from the University of Sharjah.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) accounts for about 80 per cent of all liver cancers, among top common cancers in the world and is the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide.
Poor prognoses remain the most challenging aspect of HCC therapy. Consequently, alternative therapeutics are essential to control HCC.
“Liver cancer was the fifth cause of death in the UAE but now it is at number four.this is how serious the disease is here,” he said.
Saffron has 160 ingredients and the team identified the active ingredient (molecule, safranal) fighting cancer.
“The ingredient works in two ways; it stops cell division and promotes cell death,” he explained.
Prof Amin and colleagues concluded that safranal exerts its anticancer effect in HepG2 cells by inhibiting DNA repair, resulting in increased DNA damage.
“To translate this in real life, we have already done the testing on rats/mice and in humans it will be done not in the far future,” he said.
“We hope we can achieve a clinical trial soon,” he added. Clinical trials depend on permissions and may take from anywhere between six months to one year before being developed into a drug.
This study was supported by Al Jalila Foundation Fund and UAEU Programme for Advanced Research Fund by Zayed Center for Health Sciences Fund, and in part by New York University Abu Dhabi Faculty Research Fund and by NYUAD Institute grant.