Context: Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras have shown that the active compound from the common household spice turmeric - curcumin - can enhance cancer cell death.

More on the news:

  • Researchers have found that treating leukaemia cells that cause cancer of the blood and bone marrow with curcumin, enhances cell death.
  • The research is published in Pharmacological Reports, a peer-reviewed journal. 

TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL):

  • It is an agent with the ability to program cell death (apoptosis) and has triggered many preclinical studies the world over. 
  • While the anti-tumour activity of TRAIL in preclinical studies had been strong, in clinical trials, the results were so far unsatisfactory as cancer cells, when exposed long-term, seem to acquire resistance against TRAIL. 
  • The next round of research has been to find chemicals that can reverse resistance and increase sensitivity of cancer cells to TRAIL.

About the IIT-M research:

  • The researchers chose curcumin as it is known to inhibit carcinogenesis and induce apoptosis in various cancer cells.
  • The researchers isolated leukaemia cells from cancer patients and found that non-toxic concentrations of curcumin can significantly increase the efficiency of TRAIL-induced cell death.
  • The findings showed clearly that even a small concentration of curcumin could potentially enhance the sensitiveness of leukemic cells to TRAIL.


  • The reactions were carried out with isolated cells outside the human body in a test tube. It is yet unclear if the same results can be obtained inside the body.
  • Absorption of curcumin in the blood from the gut and its bio-availability for therapeutic purposes is generally poor.

However, a few researchers have shown that compounds such as quercetin found in onions and green tea and piperazine, found in black and green pepper, enhance absorption of curcumin by the body.