Dr. Weeks’ Comment: The best medicine is indeed food – medicinal foods. Ginger is not only my go to remedy for motion sickness (aboard ships in particular) but also as a tea (fresh ground organic ginger and hot water) for addressing cancer STEM cells.
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) pose a serious obstacle to cancer therapy as they can be responsible for poor prognosis and tumour relapse. In this study, we have investigated inhibitory activity of the ginger-derived compound 6-shogaol against breast cancer cells both in monolayer and in cancer-stem cell-like spheroid culture. The spheroids were generated from adherent breast cancer cells. 6-shogaol was effective in killing both breast cancer monolayer cells and spheroids at doses that were not toxic to noncancerous cells. The percentages of CD44+CD24-/low cells and the secondary sphere content were reduced drastically upon treatment with 6-shogaol confirming its action on CSCs. Treatment with 6-shogaol caused cytoplasmic vacuole formation and cleavage of microtubule associated protein Light Chain3 (LC3) in both monolayer and spheroid culture indicating that it induced autophagy. Kinetic analysis of the LC3 expression and a combination treatment with chloroquine revealed that the autophagic flux instigated cell death in 6-shogaol treated breast cancer cells in contrast to the autophagy inhibitor chloroquine. Furthermore, 6-shogaol-induced cell death got suppressed in the presence of chloroquine and a very low level of apoptosis was exhibited even after prolonged treatment of the compound, suggesting that autophagy is the major mode of cell death induced by 6-shogaol in breast cancer cells. 6-shogaol reduced the expression levels of Cleaved Notch1 and its target proteins Hes1 and Cyclin D1 in spheroids, and the reduction was further pronounced in the presence of a γ-secretase inhibitor. Secondary sphere formation in the presence of the inhibitor was also further reduced by 6-shogaol. Together, these results indicate that the inhibitory action of 6-shogaol on spheroid growth and sustainability is conferred through γ-secretase mediated down-regulation of Notch signaling. The efficacy of 6-shogaol in monolayer and cancer stem cell-like spheroids raise hope for its therapeutic benefit in breast cancer treatment.