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Spice it Up

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Saffron has been shown to halt the progression of liver cancer in mice, reports Benchfly's Katie Pratt. A recent study published in the journal Hepatology, analyzed the effects of saffron on a mouse model of liver cancer, and found that the mice dosed with high levels of the spice didn't develop any tumors, while 75 percent of the control mice developed liver nodules. United Arab Emirates University's Amr Amin and his colleagues found that saffron affected the activity of the cell proliferation gene Ki-67, Pratt says. Further, the researchers observed an increase in levels of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that neutralizes myeloperoxidase activity. But this discovery should not be hailed as a cure for cancer, Pratt adds. Saffron is an expensive spice, $73 an ounce, and is hard to produce — so it wouldn't be a viable treatment option for large populations of patients. But, she says, plants are often the starting point for drug development. For example, the cancer drug paclitaxel was derived from the yew tree. "It's not obvious to me how high the saffron dose had to be to have this cancer-protective effect in mice, or if there were any adverse side effects (a yellowing of the fur, perhaps)," Pratt says. "However, Amin et al plan on testing the spice in human liver cancer patients in the near future, so the dose/hair color effects can’t have been that serious."

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