Colorado State University Cancer Researchers Test if Spice Can Kill Feline Cancer Cells in Laboratory

A simple compound derived from the spice rack of kitchens may have the ability to stop cancer cells from growing in cats. Curcumin, a compound in turmeric, appears to stop the growth of cancer in laboratory cell tests. Cats metabolize many drugs and compounds, including turmeric, differently. Researchers at Colorado State University believe that difference may prove to be beneficial to cats.

While researchers know that curcumin has anti-cancer properties, it is metabolized through the liver in most animals and humans in a way that renders it ineffective against cancer cells in the body. However, oncologists at Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center are conducting laboratory tests on cancer cells to determine if a therapeutic level of the spice can be identified for felines.

“Dogs, humans and other mammals have a liver that is very effective at metabolizing many compounds, but cats don’t metabolize certain drugs as well because they have a unique liver,” said Dr. Doug Thamm, a veterinary oncologist who is leading the project. “The unique feline liver means that some drugs that are not toxic to dogs or humans may be toxic to cats. In this case, dog and human liver enzymes turn off the beneficial effects of curcumin against cancer, but because feline livers function differently, the benefits may not be completely lost.”

Thamm and veterinary student Barbara Qurollo will work to determine how much curcumin is required to inhibit the growth of feline cancer cells, as a prelude to potential clinical trials in cats.

Turmeric is an herb related to ginger that is often used in Indian cuisine. It is used as a spice in curries, canned beverages, baked products, dairy products and home-canned products such as pickles. Turmeric also is used for its mustard color in condiments and as a dye. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.

Curcumin has shown anti-cancer activity in laboratory tests against many different types of human cancer including skin, oral cavity, lung, pancreas, prostate, intestinal tract and bone cancers. The compound has been studied in other species, including humans, but results have never been promising for use as a therapy because of the way the compound is metabolized by the liver.

Cancer is a major cause of disease-related death in cats. This study will focus on cancer cells from feline vaccine-associated sarcoma, which is a soft tissue sarcoma that develops in sites where vaccines have been administered.

The Animal Cancer Center is located in the university’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital and is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.