1. Stockwell, Serena

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New research continues the promising preclinical results for the compound called crocetinic acid, a component of saffron. The study, by a team from the University of Kansas Medical Center NCI-Designated University of Kansas Cancer Center, showed that crocetinic acid inhibits hedgehog signaling, leading to a reduction in pancreatic cancer stem cells (Oncotarget 2015:5,13 Aug).

Figure. Schematic re... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Schematic representation of the mechanism by which crocetinic acid inhibits tumor growth

The agent was purified from commercial saffron using high-performance liquid chromatography. "Crocetinic acid inhibits proliferation of pancreatic cancer cell lines in a dose- and time-dependent manner," wrote the researchers, led by Animesh Dhar, PhD, Associate Professor in the Departments of Cancer Biology and Molecular and Integrative Physiology.


"Crocetinic acid induced apoptosis. Moreover, it significantly inhibited epidermal growth factor receptor and Akt phosphorylation. Furthermore, crocetinic acid decreased the number and size of the pancospheres in a dose-dependent manner and suppressed the expression of the marker protein DCLK-1 (Doublecortin Calcium/Calmodulin-Dependent Kinase-1), suggesting that crocetinic acid targets cancer stem cells."


The team (first author is Parthasarathy Rangarajan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology) also noted that the data were confirmed in vivo, showing suppressed growth of tumor xenografts.


A First

"Collectively, these data suggest that purified crocetinic acid inhibits pancreatic cancer stem cells, thereby inhibiting pancreatic tumorigenesis. The study indicates for the first time that purified crocetinic acid could be used as a novel therapeutic agent for pancreatic cancer.


"Further studies related to dosing and formulations would greatly benefit moving the compound to the clinic to determine therapeutic efficacy in humans affected by pancreatic and other cancers."



Dhar noted via email that the researchers have now patented the compound and are looking to start a Phase I clinical trial.


The research was supported by several National Institute of Health and National Cancer Institute grants.


-Serena Stockwell