An active ingredient in ipecac syrup inhibited the proliferation of bladder tumor cells when used alone or in combination with cisplatin in a recent study.

The ingredient, emetine dihydrochloride, is a natural alkaloid that had demonstrated modest anticancer efficacy in clinical trials in the 1970s, wrote Loyola University Health System researcher Kimberly E. Foreman, PhD, and fellow investigators in their new report for The Journal of Urology. Although these findings were not pursued at the time, emetine dihydrochloride has recently been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in leukemia cell lines, an effect enhanced by cisplatin.

Dr. Foreman and colleagues sought to determine the antiproliferative effects of emetine with and without cisplatin on bladder cancer cells. They found that each agent alone inhibited cancer cell proliferation, but in combination, emetine and cisplatin worked with moderate to strong synergism. Emetine appeared to primarily induce growth arrest rather than apoptosis of the cancer cells, and had little effect on the normal urothelial cells.

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The results suggest that therapy combining emetine and cisplatin-based chemotherapy may benefit persons with bladder cancer, concluded the study authors.