Ingredient in common kitchen spice turmeric when combined with anti-nausea medication thalidomide effectively kills cancer cells

279172_4332In a laboratory, preclinical study recently published by the journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center researchers combined structural features from anti-nausea drug thalidomide with common kitchen spice turmeric to create hybrid molecules that effectively kill multiple myeloma cells.

Thalidomide was first introduced in the 1950s as an anti-nausea medication to help control morning sickness, but was later taken off the shelves in 1962 because it was found to cause birth defects. In the late 1990’s the drug was re-introduced as a stand-alone or combination treatment for multiple myeloma. Turmeric, an ancient spice grown in India and other tropical regions of Asia, has a long history of use in herbal remedies and has recently been studied as a means to prevent and treat cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the American Cancer Society, laboratory studies have shown that curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, interferes with several important molecular pathways and inhibits the formation of cancer-causing enzymes in rodents.

“Although thalidomide disturbs the microenvironment of tumor cells in bone marrow, it disintegrates in the body. Curcumin, also active against cancers, is limited by its poor water solubility. But the combination of thalidomide and curcumin in the hybrid molecules enhances both the cytotoxicity and solubility,” says the study’s lead researcher Shijun Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

Compared to mixing multiple drugs, creating hybrid molecules can provide certain advantages. “Enhanced potency, reduced risk of developing drug resistance, improved pharmacokinetic properties, reduced cost and improved patient compliance are just a few of those advantages,” says another of the study’s researchers Steven Grant, M.D., Shirley Carter Olsson and Sture Gordon Olsson Chair in Oncology Research, associate director for translational research, program co-leader of Developmental Therapeutics and Cancer Cell Signaling research member at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

moleculesThe hybrid molecules of turmeric and thalidomide (as shown in the figure to the right) created more than 15 compounds, each with a different effect. Scientists found that compounds 5 and 7 (highlighted) exhibited superior cell toxicity compared to curcumin alone or the combination of curcumin and thalidomide. Furthermore, the compounds were found to induce significant multiple myeloma cell death.

“Overall, the combination of the spice and the drug was significantly more potent than either individually, suggesting that this hybrid strategy in drug design could lead to novel compounds with improved biological activities,” added Grant. “The results also strongly encourage further optimization of compounds 5 and 7 to develop more potent agents as treatment options for multiple myeloma.”

Zhang and Grant collaborated on this study with Kai Liu from the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy; Jeremy Chojnacki, from the VCU Department of Medicinal Chemistry; Datong Zhang, from the School of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Engineering at Shandong Polytechnic University in Jinan, Shandong; and Yuhong Du and Haian Fu, from the Department of Pharmacology and Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The full manuscript of this study is available at:

7 thoughts on “Ingredient in common kitchen spice turmeric when combined with anti-nausea medication thalidomide effectively kills cancer cells

  1. My mom is presently consuming 50 mg thalidomide per day.She has already gone through 6 sessions of bortizomib along with dexamethazone.she got stringent remmission.But after two and half months of stopping bortizomib her Kappa/lambda ratio has rose from 1to 2.Please suggest me if she should combine consumption of whole turmeric along with thalidomide 50mg for better result.Please do mention how she should consume it and when.

    • Hi Rima,

      Unfortunately the hybrid molecule created by chemists in the study is not the same as simply combining the ingredients. Because of this, we cannot draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of combining thalidomide and turmeric. This is a preclinical study, and while results are promising in the laboratory, this has not yet been tested in patients.

      If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

      Take good care,
      VCU Massey Cancer Center

  2. Currently I am taking Revlimid 25 MG capsules (Lenalidomide) for multiple myeloma. Since the basic substances of Thalidomide and Lenalidomide are the same. Do you know if turmeric combined with Lenalidomide has similar effectiveness as Thalidomide?

    Also is turmeric has to be taken at the same time as the medicine?

    • Mr. Ghardashem,

      Thank you for your interest in this study. Although the therapy described in this article is very exciting and promising, it is not yet available for patient use. The results that Dr. Grant and the team discovered were found in the laboratory and still need further research before being tested in a clinical trial with patients. Currently, the combination of Revlimid and turmeric has not been tested in the clinic for the treatment of multiple myeloma. But, our researchers will certainly consider it for future research.

      If you are interested in learning more about the clinical trials currently offered at Massey for multiple myeloma, please visit We also provide information on our Web site for multiple myeloma treatment options in general at:

      I hope you find this information helpful and if we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

      Take good care,
      VCU Massey Cancer Center

  3. I am interested in the article about turmeric and thalidomide treatment for multiple myeloma.

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