Associate professor Georg Wondrak and professor Donna Zhang, both of the College of Pharmacy's Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, recently completed a study in which they proved that adding cinnamaldehyde — the compound that gives cinnamon its distinctive flavor and smell — to the diet of mice protected the mice against colorectal cancer. In response to cinnamaldehyde, the animals’ cells had acquired the ability to protect themselves against exposure to a carcinogen through detoxification and repair.
"This is a significant finding," said Zhang, a member of the UA Cancer Center and the BIO5 Institute. "Because colorectal cancer is aggressive and associated with poor prognoses, there is an urgent need to develop more effective strategies against this disease."
Added Wondrak, also a member of the Cancer Center: "Given cinnamon’s important status as the third most consumed spice in the world, there’s relatively little research on its potential health benefits. If we can ascertain the positive effects of cinnamon, we would like to leverage this opportunity to potentially improve the health of people around the globe."
Wondrak's and Zhang’s study, "Nrf2-Dependent Suppression of Azoxymethane/Dextrane Sulfate Sodium-Induced Colon Carcinogenesis by the Cinnamon-Derived Dietary Factor Cinnamaldehyde," has been published online and will appear in a print issue of Cancer Prevention Research.
A story about the cinnamaldehyde study appears on the College of Pharmacy’s website.
The next step in the research is to test whether cinnamon, as opposed to cinnamaldehyde, prevents cancer using this same cancer model. Because cinnamon is a common food additive already considered safe — it’s not a synthetic, novel drug — a study in humans may not be too far off.
Wondrak outlined questions to investigate going forward: "Can cinnamon do it, now that we know pure cinnamaldehyde can? And can we use cinnamaldehyde or cinnamon as a weapon to go after other major diseases, such as inflammatory dysregulation and diabetes? These are big questions to which we might be able to provide encouraging answers using a very common spice."