Naturally occurring dairy preservative could kill cancer cells: Study

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Can nisin, extracted from dairy, help kill cancer cells? Photo: iStock - Damerau
Can nisin, extracted from dairy, help kill cancer cells? Photo: iStock - Damerau

Related tags Immune system Cancer

A recent study from the University of Michigan found that nisin, a food preservative that naturally grows on dairy products, could help kill cancer cells and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The study​ said nisin is a bacteriocin produced by Gram-positive Lactococcus and Streptococcus bacteria. It contains “unusual amino acids” due to post-translational modifications, the study said.

“Increasing evidence indicates that nisin can influence the growth of tumors and exhibit selective cytotoxicity towards cancer cells,”​ the authors wrote. “Collectively, the application of nisin has advanced beyond its role as a food biopreservative. Thus, this review will describe and compare studies on nisin and provide insight into its future biomedical applications.”

What the study found

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Yvonne Kapila, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, told University of Michigan’s news website that rats fed a “nisin milkshake”​ saw a 70% to 80% reduction in head and neck tumor cells after a nine-week study. These rats also ended up surviving longer.

Other things nisin can help with, according to the study, include:

  • Antibiotic-resistant skin and soft tissue infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin resistant enterococci
  • Oral health problems, such as periodontal diseases
  • Improving the immune system. For example, returning B- and T-lymphocytes levels to normal

However, all of these results were found in mice only, so there will need to be further studies to see how truly effective nisin is on treatment of these diseases or ailments.

New ground

The study said nisin is GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, and FDA approved as a peptide with recognition for clinical use.

“Over the past few decades, nisin has been used widely as a food biopreservative,” the​ study’s authors wrote in the abstract. “Since then, many natural and genetically modified variants of nisin have been identified and studied for their unique antimicrobial properties”​.

It has been accepted as useful in biomedical fields. Researchers said nisin may have anti-biofilm properties that can work with conventional theory drugs and may activate the adaptive immune response and have an immunomodulatory role.

Although findings of this study are promising, the authors said there will need to be further validation of the biomedical uses of nisin via in vivo studies to evaluate it. Surveying the potential of novel mechanisms of nisin in vitro and in vivo will be essential to gaining new knowledge and finding unique ways to use nisin in disease therapies and treatments.

Source: PubMed

Biomedical Applications of Nisin

doi: 10.1111/jam.13033

J. Shin, J. Gwak, P. Kamarajan, J. Fenno, A. Rickard, Y. Kapila

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