Research Highlight

Turmeric plant in Western Ghats holds anticancer agents

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.64 Published online 3 May 2021

A turmeric plant endemic to India's Western Ghats in Kerala harbours anticancer compounds in its underground stem1.

Researchers made extracts from the turmeric stem and isolated an organic compound that inhibited the growth of various types of human cancer cells. The researchers say the compound could potentially be used to develop novel therapies for various cancers.

The international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Calicut in Kerala, used the stem of the turmeric plant (Curcuma mutabilis) to prepare extracts using petroleum ether, chloroform, acetone and methanol. They then exposed cancer cells from human colon, breast, blood, (non-small) lung and prostate to these extracts.

The researchers found that all the extracts reduced the survival of the cancer cells. But, the petroleum ether extract exhibited the maximum toxic effects on all types of cancer cells. This extract killed the cancer cells by increasing the levels of intracellular reactive oxygen species, calcium ions and fragmenting DNA molecules. Apart from inducing cell death, the extract robbed the cancer cells of their ability to form a colony, they report.  

Next, they isolated Curcuma mutabilis epoxide (Cm epoxide), an organic compound from the petroleum ether extract, that suppressed the genes essential for the survival and migration of the cancer cells.

The petroleum ether extract and the Cm epoxide, being non-toxic to normal human blood cells and mice, seem promising as potential candidates for developing novel cancer therapies, the researchers note.


1. Soumya, T. et al. Anticancer potential of rhizome extract and a labdane diterpenoid from Curcuma mutabilis plant endemic to Western Ghats of India. Sci. Rep. 11:552 (2021)