Research Highlight

Curcumin-loaded gum polymers kill aggressive breast cancer cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.7 Published online 22 January 2019

Researchers have synthesised curcumin-loaded gum-polymer-based microspheres that, when attached with folic acid, can selectively kill an aggressive form of breast cancer cell1. This could lead to the development of a novel therapy for certain types of breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer cells lack specific receptor cell-surface proteins. The absence of the receptors endows them with the ability to defy certain synthetic anticancer drugs. Although curcumin has shown anticancer potential, it is not readily soluble in biological fluids, limiting its therapeutic applications.

To devise a way to destroy the aggressive breast cancer cells, scientists from the Jadavpur University and the Bose Institute in Kolkata, India, made the microspheres using gum polymers isolated from an acacia tree. They then loaded the microspheres with curcumin and folic acid.

Attaching folic acid enabled the microspheres to selectively bind to cancer cells, such as triple-negative cells, that express folate receptors. When exposed to cultured triple-negative breast cancer cells, the microspheres stopped the proliferation of the cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, a controlled process of cell death.

The researchers found that the acidic environment of the cancer cells allowed the microspheres to release curcumin, which activated a specific death-triggering enzyme and blocked the activity of the specific protein known to prevent cell death.    

The curcumin-loaded microspheres also significantly shrank the size of breast tumours in mice, increasing the life-span of the tumour-bearing mice.


1. Pal, K. et al. Folic acid conjugated curcumin loaded biopolymeric gum acacia microsphere for triple negative breast cancer therapy in in vitro and in vivo model. Mater. Sci. Eng. C. 95, 204-216 (2019)