Astaxanthin is a natural pigment that makes many sea creatures red, such as shrimp and crabs. It has many commercial uses such as a food coloring and an animal feed supplement, and it is an antioxidant. Previous research has found that astaxanthin has an antitumor effect.
Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer with an especially poor prognosis. It is difficult to treat because most cancer drugs can’t cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain tumor. Some natural products such as curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier. Recently, a team of scientists in Japan set out to test whether astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier and whether it can act against glioblastoma tumors.
First, the researchers added astaxanthin to a cell culture line of mouse glioblastoma cells. They found that the cells had reduced proliferation and migration, both of which are needed for tumors to spread.
Then they fed astaxanthin to mice and were able to detect it in mouse brains, suggesting that astaxnthin can cross the blood-brain barrier. The researchers fed astaxanthin to mice with a model of glioblastoma and the tumor growth was notably inhibited.
Astaxanthin may inhibit glioblastoma growth because it is an antioxidant. Antioxidants can affect the cell signals that control growth and division. The antitumor effect of astaxanthin in this experiment was modest, but astaxanthin is worth researching in combination with other promising glioblastoma drugs.
Tsuji S, Nakamura S, Maoka T, et al. Antitumor effects of astaxanthin and adonixanthin on glioblastoma. Marine Drugs. 2020 Sep 18;18(9):474. doi:10.3390/md18090474. PMID: 32962073.