How can tomatoes and potatoes be used in the treatment of cancer?

Cancer treatment concept

Glycoalkaloids are a class of natural compounds found in many plants, especially those of the Solanaceae family, which includes potato plants, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Because of its toxic nature, it is sought for isolation, purification, and manipulation to turn it into safe anti-cancer drugs.

Glycoalkaloids are found in plants of the genus Solanum It may be a key ingredient in future cancer drugs.

Cancer is a disease that affects many people around the world. In 2020, there were about 19 million new cases and 10 million deaths. While cancer treatments continue to improve, they can also cause damage to healthy cells or have severe side effects. In the search for more targeted and effective cancer drugs, researchers are exploring the potential of bioactive compounds found in conventional medicine, such as glycoalkaloids.

A team of scientists led by Magdalena Winkel of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland recently published a study in Frontiers in pharmacologyReview of the potential of glycoalkaloids found in common vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes as a treatment for cancer.

“Scientists around the world are still searching for drugs that will be lethal to cancer cells but at the same time safe for healthy cells,” Winkel said. “It is not easy despite the advances in medicine and the strong development of modern healing technologies. That is why it may be useful to return to medicinal plants that have been used successfully for years in the treatment of various diseases. I think it is worth re-examining their properties and perhaps re- discover their potential.”

Making medicine from poison

Winkel and her colleagues focused on five glycoalkaloids — solanine, shikonine, solasunan, solamargine and tomatine — which are found in the crude extracts of the nightshade family of plants, also known as nightshade. This family includes many popular food plants—many of which are poisonous, often because of the alkaloids they produce as a defense against animals that eat the plants. But the right dose can turn a poison into a medicine: Once scientists find a safe therapeutic dose of alkaloids, they can be powerful clinical tools.

Glycoalkaloids in particular inhibit the growth of cancer cells and may promote the death of cancer cells. These are key target areas for controlling cancer and improving patients’ prognosis, so they have huge potential for future therapies. In silico studies – an important first step – indicate that glycoalkaloids are not toxic and do not risk spoilage.[{” attribute=””>DNA or causing future tumors, although there may be some effects on the reproductive system.

“Even if we cannot replace anticancer drugs that are used nowadays, maybe combined therapy will increase the effectiveness of this treatment,” Winkiel suggested. “There are many questions, but without detailed knowledge of the properties of glycoalkaloids, we will not be able to find out.”

From tomatoes to treatments

One necessary step forward is using in vitro and model animal studies, to determine which glycoalkaloids are safe and promising enough to test in humans. Winkiel and her colleagues highlight glycoalkaloids derived from potatoes, like solanine and chaconine – although the levels of these present in potatoes depend on the cultivar of potato and the light and temperature conditions the potatoes are exposed to. Solanine stops some potentially carcinogenic chemicals from transforming into carcinogens in the body and inhibits metastasis. Studies on a particular type of leukemia cells also showed that at therapeutic doses, solanine kills them. Chaconine has anti-inflammatory properties, with the potential to treat sepsis.

Meanwhile, solamargine — which is mostly found in aubergines — stops liver cancer cells from reproducing. Solamargine is one of several glycoalkaloids that could be crucial as a complementary treatment because it targets cancer stem cells which are thought to play a significant role in cancer drug resistance. Solasonine, which is found in several plants from the nightshade family, is also thought to attack cancer stem cells by targeting the same pathway. Even tomatoes offer potential for future medicine, with tomatine supporting the body’s regulation of the cell cycle so that it can kill cancer cells.

Further research will be needed to determine how this in vitro potential can best be turned into practical medicine, Winkiel and her team noted. There is some reason to believe that high-temperature processing improves glycoalkaloid properties, and nanoparticles have recently been found to improve the transmission of glycoalkaloids to cancer cells, boosting drug delivery. However, the glycoalkaloids’ mechanisms of action need to be better understood, and all potential safety concerns need to be scrutinized before patients can benefit from cancer drugs straight out of the vegetable patch.

Reference: “Anticancer activity of glycoalkaloids from Solanum plants: A review” by Magdalena Joanna Winkiel, Szymon Chowański and Małgorzata Słocińska, 7 December 2022, Frontiers in Pharmacology.
DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2022.979451

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