Potatoes and tomatoes could hold the secret to new cancer drugs

The benefits of vegetables go way beyond our understanding.
Mert Erdemir
Cancer cells in the bloodstream.
Cancer cells in the bloodstream.

Chawalit Banpot/iStock 

Advances in medicine and technology aided scientists in developing more influential cancer treatments. However, these treatments can damage healthy cells, and they often cause severe side effects in patients.

In search of possible cancer drug candidates with fewer adverse effects, researchers from Adam Mickiewicz University examined glycoalkaloids, the bioactive substances found in many vegetables, such as potatoes and tomatoes, for their potential efficiency in treating cancer. So who knows? Future cancer drugs can be formulated from glycoalkaloids.

“Scientists around the world are still searching for the drugs which will be lethal to cancer cells but at the same time safe for healthy cells,” said Magdalena Winkiel in a press release.

“It is not easy despite the advances in medicine and powerful development of modern treatment techniques. That is why it might be worth going back to medicinal plants that were used years ago with success in the treatment of various ailments. I believe that it is worth re-examining their properties and perhaps rediscovering their potential.”

Working on five glycoalkaloids

The research team worked on five glycoalkaloids – solanine, chaconine, solasonine, solamargine, and tomatine – that are present in crude extracts of the Solanaceae plant family, also known as nightshades.

Solanaceae plant family includes several commonly consumed foods along with many toxic ones as a result of the alkaloids they produce to protect themselves against herbivorous animals. However, previous research shows that poison can turn into medicine if in the correct dose.

Glycoalkaloids are known for inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and potentially killing them. Therefore, glycoalkaloids have huge potential for future treatments since these are important target areas for taking cancer under control and improving the prognoses of patients. Silico studies, those performed via simulation on a computer, revealed that the glycoalkaloids aren’t toxic and don’t risk damaging DNA or causing future tumors, although there it carries the risk of having some impact on the reproductive system.

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

Researchers highlighted solanine and chaconine

After conducting vitro and animal studies to evaluate which glycoalkaloids are safe and promising enough to test in humans, the research team highlighted solanine and chaconine, glycoalkaloids found in potatoes. However, the quantities of these in potatoes vary depending on the cultivar as well as the temperature and light conditions they were exposed to.

Solanine prevents metastasis along with stopping potentially carcinogenic compounds from transforming into carcinogens in the body. Additionally, research on a specific type of leukemia cells revealed that solanine could kill cancer cells when used at therapeutic doses.

Chaconine has the potential to be used for treating sepsis since it has anti-inflammatory effects.

Solamargine inhibits the reproduction of liver cancer cells and targets cancer stem cells, which are expected to play a substantial role in cancer drug resistance. So it could be crucial as a complementary treatment.

Solasonine, which is present in various plants in the nightshade family, is also thought to attack cancer stem cells by targeting the same pathway.

Even tomatoes have the potential to be used in medicine in the future since tomatine helps the body regulate the cell cycle so that it can kill cancer cells.

The research team noted that additional research is required to ascertain how this in vitro potential can be best translated into real-world medicine.

The study was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.