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Chilli peppers are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hot spicy flavors. However, unknown to many, chili peppers would taste precisely like ordinary vegetables without a particular compound named capsaicin. It is this same compound that researchers now believe can be helpful in the fight against lung cancer.

According to the researchers, a non-pungent synthetic analog consisting of capsaicin affected lung cancer cells more responsive to treatment. If the research is anything to go by, this is a tremendous breakthrough given that small cell lung cancer is one of the most aggressive types of cancer with saddening survival rates.

Capsaicin after chemotherapy

Commonly, doctors use cisplatin-based combination chemotherapy to treat small cell lung cancer. While this method is effective, the tumor often reoccurs within a year in a more severe and treatment-resistant form.

Piyali Dasgupta, Ph.D., research leader of the recent study from Marshall University, says that irinotecan is the only FDA-approved drug for small cell lung cancer. Still, less than three in a hundred patients respond to it. Dr. Dasgupta adds that any drug that would improve irinotecan’s ability to fight the disease would be valuable to the patients.

Although capsaicin has shown signs of helping fight against cancer in the past, there has always been the concern that it causes nausea, stomach discomfort, and heartburn in some people. To get around this, the scientists used synthetic capsaicin analog, which would not cause the digestive side effects of the natural capsaicin.

Arvanil in reoccurring cancer

While the researchers did not notice any growth inhibiting behavior when they exposed capsaicin to cancer cells, the impact was apparent once they added irinotecan. The two substances (irinotecan and capsaicin) seem to work in synergy and considerably slowed down the cancer cell activity. Jamie Friedman, a former Ph.D. candidate in Dasgupta’s lab, concludes that because arvanil has proven to enhance irinotecan’s performance, it might be helpful for patients who relapse small cell lung cancer.