Breast cancer researcher named as a Fresh Scientist of the year

7 June 2018
Using the active ingredient in turmeric to treat breast cancer

Dr Pegah Varamini presented her research last night at the Fresh Science pub night to a crowd of science enthusiasts.

Dr Pegah Varamini in the laboratory

Dr Pegah Varamini in the laboratory


Fresh Science is a national competition helping early-career researchers, with little to no media experience, share their research discoveries.

Dr Pegah Varamini is a researcher, lecturer and group leader in the cancer theme at the Sydney School of Pharmacy. Dr Varamini’s research focus is on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) which affects around 15 per cent of breast cancer patients.

TNBC is one of the most challenging types of breast cancer for which there are currently no targeted therapies. General chemotherapy is the only available option for these patients.

In her research Dr Varamini uses curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, which has been shown to have potential use in the treatment of conditions such as cancer and inflammation.

It cannot be used as a medicine in its raw form, “that means, drinking a turmeric latte at a coffee shop or taking a capsule of turmeric will not treat cancer,” said Dr Varamini.

Dr Varamini used a ‘trojan horse’ approach and a technology that involved nano-vesicles decorated with antennas that can discriminate normal cells from cancer cells. The vesicles containing curcumin only target cancer cells whereas, general chemotherapy affects normal cells as well.

The study is being funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation and is in preliminary phases on human cancer cells.

Comparison of the effects of curcumin-decorated nano-vesicles (left) to raw un-modified curcumin on breast cancer cells (right) after 4 days.

The figures demonstrates that the curcumin-decorated nano-vesicles are easily uptaken by breast cancer cells and are killed after 4 days, while the raw curcumin is not uptaken and does not affect the growth of the cells.

Dr Varamini's next step is to examine the therapeutic agent in different breast cancer models. If successful, the study will move on to include human clinical trials.

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