This ginger compound stops pancreatic cancer cells from spreading
02/26/2020 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Plants from the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family contain an active compound that is known for its anti-tumor properties. Called B-elemene, this liquid-soluble sesquiterpene not only induces cancer cell death, but also cell cycle arrest at different stages, depending on the type of tumor.

In a recent study, researchers from The First Hospital of China Medical University explored the mechanism behind the anti-tumor activity of B-elemene. They also evaluated its efficacy as an anti-tumor agent against pancreatic carcinoma. Due to its low cell toxicity and its ability to reduce the size of tumors significantly, the researchers believe that B-elemene can be used in the clinical treatment of aggressive tumors like pancreatic cancer.

How B-elemene stops the progression of pancreatic tumors

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most common and malignant cancers in the world. In the U.S., about three percent of all cancer cases are pancreatic cancer, and seven percent of all cancer-related deaths are caused by this disease. Although various treatment options are available for pancreatic cancer patients, these treatments cause unpleasant side effects that reduce their quality of life. Hence, scientists continue to search for effective cancer therapies that have fewer adverse effects.

According to numerous studies, B-elemene from Zingiberaceae plants has potent anti-cancer activity. In fact, clinicians in China use this compound for the treatment of various types of tumors, such as lung tumors, glioblastomas and prostate tumors. However, B-elemene is seldom used for pancreatic cancer, so its effectiveness against this aggressive disease has not been evaluated.


In an article published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Chinese researchers looked at the effects of B-elemene on pancreatic cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. For their in vitro experiment, they used two pancreatic cancer cell lines (BxPC-3 and Panc-1) to test for anti-proliferative activity. For their in vivo experiment, they transplanted BxPC-3 cells subcutaneously into 48 nude mice and used low, medium and high dosages of B-elemene to determine optimal treatment concentrations.

The researchers reported that B-elemene was able to stop the proliferation of BxPC-3 and Panc-1 cells in a dose-dependent manner. The compound also induced cell cycle arrest in both cell lines after 12 hours of treatment. Meanwhile, in vivo, B-elemene significantly reduced the size of tumors in mice that received the highest dosage without causing significant changes in their body weights. B-Elemene also decreased the number of inflammatory cells and reduced histopathological changes in a dose-dependent manner.

When the researchers looked at the expression of p53, a tumor suppressor, and Bcl-2, an anti-apoptotic protein, in the pancreatic tumors, they found that B-elemene increased the former and down-regulated the latter.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that elemene from Zingiberaceae plants is an effective anti-tumor agent against pancreatic cancer.

Medicinal plants from the ginger family and their uses

Members of the Zingiberaceae family are well-known for their aromatic quality and useful chemical components. These plants are rich in volatile oils and oleoresins, which are widely used in the flavor and food industry. Meanwhile, their rhizomes are veritable sources of essential oils and medicinal compounds, such as terpenes, ketones, flavonoids and phytoestrogens. These nutrients are responsible for the health-promoting properties associated with Zingiberaceae plants. Here are some of the most commonly used Zingiberaceae plants in traditional medicine:

  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) -- Rich in flavonoids, glycosides, saponins and terpenoids, ginger is used to treat asthma, cough, inflammation, constipation, indigestion, nausea and pain.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) -- A well-known source of curcuminoids like curcumin, this spice is valued for its antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Greater galangal (Alpinia galanga) -- This herb contains a variety of terpenes that make it a potent remedy for heart disease, rheumatic pains, chest pain, diabetes and kidney and liver diseases.
  • Aromatic ginger (Kaempferia galangal) -- A common ingredient in herbal medicine, its different parts are used to reduce inflammation, treat sore throat, stabilize mood, relieve diarrhea and stomachache and prevent cancer.

Plants from the ginger family have many uses and unique qualities. Learn more about them at

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