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Rockford researchers look to licorice for promising cancer treatments


Gnanasekar Munirathinam, PhD

Licorice is more than a candy people either love or hate – it may play a role in preventing or treating certain types of cancer, according to researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford.

Gnanasekar Munirathinam, PhD, and his research team are studying substances derived from the licorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra to determine if they could be used to prevent or stop the growth of prostate cancer. Dr. Munirathinam is an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

A research review into molecular insights of a licorice-derived substance called glycyrrhizin for preventing or treating cancer conducted by Dr. Munirathinam and student researchers suggests further research could lead to specific agents for clinical use. The journal Pharmacological Research recently published the study titled “Oncopreventive and oncotherapeutic potential of licorice triterpenoid compound glycyrrhizin and its derivatives: Molecular insights.”

Rifika Jain, Mohamed Ali Hussein and Preksha Shahagadkar, students in the UICOMR Master of Science in Medical Biotechnology Program, along with medical students Shannon Pierce and Chad Martens, co-authored the review.

“When we look at the research out there and our own data, it appears that glycyrrhizin and its derivative glycyrrhetinic acid, have great potential as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents,” says Dr. Munirathinam. “More research is needed into exactly how these could best be used to develop therapies, but this appears to be a promising area of cancer research.”

Should everyone go out and eat a bunch of licorice? Probably not, because it may affect blood pressure, interact with certain medications, and cause serious adverse effects, including death, when used excessively. An occasional sweet treat of licorice candy or tea may be better options until more studies can show how to best harness the plant’s benefits.

“Very few clinical trials in humans have been conducted,” says Dr. Munirathinam. “We hope our research on prostate cancer cells advances the science to the point where therapies can be translated to help prevent or even cure prostate and other types of cancer.”

This study was partly supported by Brovember, Inc. and National Institutes of Health Grant# R03 CA227218. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.