The medicinal qualities of pineapple are recognized in many traditions in South America, China and Southeast Asia. These qualities are attributed to bromelain, a 95%-mixture of proteases. Medicinal qualities of bromelain include anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, fibrinolytic and anti-cancer functions. Existing evidence derived from clinical observations as well as from mouse- and cell-based models suggests that bromelain acts systemically, affecting multiple cellular and molecular targets. In recent years, studies have shown that bromelain has the capacity to modulate key pathways that support malignancy. It is now possible to suggest that the anti-cancer activity of bromelain consists in the direct impact on cancer cells and their micro-environment, as well as in the modulation of immune, inflammatory and haemostatic systems. This review will summarize existing data relevant to bromelain's anti-cancer activity and will suggest mechanisms which account for bromelain's effect, in the light of research involving non-cancer models. The review will also identify specific new research questions that will need to be addressed in order for a full assessment of bromelain-based anti-cancer therapy.
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