A compound in the fats in Louisiana oysters could be a key ingredient in treating and preventing cancer, according to scientists at the LSU AgCenter.
Jack Losso, Ph.D., a researcher in the LSU AgCenter Department of Food Science, has found that ceramide—a lipid (or fat) found in oysters – can restrict blood vessel growth and development of cancer cells in test tubes and blood vessels in rats.
By preventing the formation of blood vessels, called angiogenesis, the compound keeps cancer cells from multiplying because they can’t grow without nutrients from the blood.
Losso said ceramide works on human breast cancer cells both in test tubes and in laboratory rats.
Breast cancer cells come in two types-hormone-dependent and hormone independent. Hormone-dependent cells appear early while hormone-independent cells appear later and are more difficult to treat, Losso said.
They can grow on their own without hormone stimulation, Losso said of the hormone-independent cells; but, when put in contact with ceramide, tumors begin dying within 48 hours.
Losso gathers/harvests ceramide from oysters by blending the oyster meat and extracting the lipid with an organic solvent—the same one that’s used to extract oil from corn and soybeans.
After the oil is extracted, the ceramide is removed and concentrated, the research said. Losso said the process is particularly effective because the solvent is accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as generally regarded as safe.
Ceramide is a novel way of treating cancer cells, said Losso who pointed out that the compound is also found in other marine animals, including bivalves, jellyfish and abalone, as well as menhaden.
Most ceramide now used is synthetic, based on cows’ milk. Losso said. “It’s similar to that found in oysters but with a different structure,” he said.
The advantages of ceramide, Losso said, are that it is naturally occurring and can be preventative as well as a treatment. In addition, the compound is stable.
‘It’s in the oil,” Losso said of ceramide, making it a ‘healthy fat’.
Losso’s work is funded through the Sea Grant college program along with early funding from the LSU AgCenter.