A new study has found that nisin, a common food preservative, has the potency to slow or even stop the growth of certain head and neck cancers.
What makes this particularly good news is that the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization approved nisin as safe for human consumption decades ago, says Yvonne Kapila, the study's principal investigator and professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.
This means that obtaining FDA approval to test nisin's suggested cancer-fighting properties on patients in a clinical setting won't take as long as a new therapy that hasn't been tried yet on people, she says.
The U-M study, which looked at the use of antimicrobials to fight cancerous tumors, suggests nisin, in part, slows cell proliferation or causes cell death through the activation of a protein called CHAC1 in cancer cells, a protein known to influence cell death.
The study is the first to show CHAC1's new role in promoting cancer cell death under nisin treatment. The findings also suggest that nisin may work by creating pores in the cancer cell membranes that allow an influx of calcium. It's unclear what role calcium plays in nisin-triggered cell death, but it's well known that calcium is a key regulator in cell death and survival.
Additionally, the findings suggest that nisin slows or stops tumor growth by interrupting the cell cycle in "bad" cells but not the good cells; thus nisin stops cancer cell proliferation but doesn't hurt good cells.