A common food preservative — nisin — has been found to have surprising anti-cancer properties that appear to slow or even stop squamous cell head and neck cancers.
University of Michigan scientists who identified nisin’s health benefits suggest it could quickly be tested on oral cancer patients in clinical trials since the additive was approved as safe for human consumption decades ago by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.
"The poor five-year survival rates for oral cancer underscore the need to find new therapies for oral cancer," said Yvonne Kapila, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry who led the new nisin study.
"The use of small antibacterial agents, like nisin, to treat cancer is a new approach that holds great promise. Nisin is a perfect example of this potential because it has been used safely in humans for many years, and now the laboratory studies support its anti-tumor potential."
She explained that nisin alters cell properties in bacteria to neutralize them. The new study indicated it also alters properties in other types of cells, such as cancer and tumor cells, by slowing their growth and inducing “cell death” through the activation of a protein called CHAC1. What’s more, the UM researchers found it doesn't harm healthy human cells.
Oral cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, and oral squamous cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of oral cancers.