California researchers found that the nutritional supplement SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) was successful in preventing the formation of primary liver cancer in rats. Primary liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third most frequent cause of cancer death in the world.
Primary liver cancer has a poor overall five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, and experts fear the disease rate will rise because of the high prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) throughout the world. Along with HCV, other risk factors for primary liver cancer include hepatitis B virus, alcoholism, cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes, and aflatoxin in the diet.
SAMe is a synthetic form of a compound that the body produces naturally when it combines the amino acid methionine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy-producing substance found in all cells in the body. Various studies over the years indicate that SAMe is effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis and depression, while some research has also suggested it has potential for liver disease as well.
In this current study, a research team from Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California evaluated the impact of SAMe on liver cancer tumors in rats. Researchers began treatment of intravenous SAMe in rats one day after they had been injected with cells designed to develop liver cancer.
The investigators found that treatment with SAMe significantly reduced the liver cancer tumors and significantly prevented development of tumors after 11 days of SAMe treatment. They also found, however, that SAMe did not reduce the rate of tumor development if treatment was started after liver cancer tumors had already formed.
Shellly Lu, MD, who headed the study, noted that SAMe is “an attractive agent for chemoprevention and treatment of HCC” because it can “selectively kill liver cancer cells.” Dr. Lu and her team had discovered in previous studies that SAMe has the ability to kill liver cancer cells while not destroying healthy liver cells, which prompted the current study. Future research is necessary to determine whether SAMe has the same effect in humans.
Lu SC et al. Hepatology 2009; 50(2).
Lu SC, Mato JM. J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2008 Mar; 23 Suppl 1:S73-77.
Lu SC, Mato JM. Alcohol 2005 Apr; 35(3): 227-34.