New Brunswick

N.B. lab confronts cancer with hot peppers

A chemistry professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. is hoping his hot pepper research will lead to a new drug to treat breast cancer.

A chemistry professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. is hoping his hot pepper research will lead to a new drug to treat breast cancer.

Steve Westcott's lab is undertaking new research into the active ingredient in the peppers — called capsaicin — by trying to improve on its already potent cancer fighting properties.

Westcott said studies have shown that injecting a tumour with capsaicin can reduce it by 50 per cent and he believes derivatives of the compound could treat breast cancer.

"We take a bunch of chemicals and mix them together like Lego to make a model," said Westcott. "So, we're trying to make this compound that's going to look like capsaicin. It's going to be very, very similar."

Second-year student Eric Bowes said the group is making capsaicin derivatives because "they're going to have a little bit different activity than capsaicin — maybe better activity."

Westcott said he hopes that coming up with these derivatives will result in a new drug that could ideally be taken like a vitamin.

"I've always loved hot peppers and I've wondered about the active ingredient was," said Westcott. "And when I saw it was a very simple compound, my thought was how could something this simple be so powerful?"

Westcott and his students have teamed up with scientists at Quebec City's Laval University and the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in Moncton on this project.