A natural extract from the neem tree of India has potential to treat pancreatic cancer, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.1

Nimbolide, a compound found in neem leaves, was tested against pancreatic cancer in cell lines and mice. These tests, conducted by biomedical scientists at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), found that nimbolide stopped the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer, yet did not harm normal, healthy cells.

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“The promise nimbolide has shown is amazing, and the specificity of the treatment toward cancer cells over normal cells is very intriguing,” said Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy, PhD, an associate professor in the TTUHSC El Paso Center of Emphasis in Cancer.

Currently, pancreatic cancer is fatal for 94% of patients who develop the disease within 5 years of diagnosis. No effective treatments are available, and so it has the highest mortality rate of all cancers.

The compound reduced the capacity of pancreatic cancer cells to migrate and invade by 70%, so the cancerous cells did not become aggressive and spread. Metastasis is the chief cause of mortality from the disease.

Furthermore, cancer cell death was induced by nimbolide treatments, as the size and number of pancreatic cancer cell colonies decreased by 80%.

“Nimbolide seems to attack pancreatic cancer from all angles,” Lakshmanaswamy said. The study found that nimbolide increases the generation of reactive oxygen species, which induces apoptotic cell death mediated by the mitochondria of the cells.

“Many people in India actually eat neem and it doesn’t have harmful side effects, which suggests that using nimbolide for pancreatic cancer will not cause adverse effects like chemotherapy and radiation typically do,” said Ramadevi Subramani, PhD, postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study.

The researchers emphasized that healthy cells were unharmed by nimbolide in both the in vitro and in vivo experiments. Next, the research team plans to pursue both preclinical and clinical investigations.


1. Subramani R, Gonzalez E, Arumugam A, et al. Nimbolide inhibits pancreatic cancer growth and metastasis through ROS-mediated apoptosis and inhibition of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition [published online ahead of print February 11, 2016]. Sci Rep. doi:10.1038/srep19819.