Microbial sophorolipids inhibit colorectal tumour cell growth in vitro and restore haematocrit in Apcmin+/− mice

Breedge Conwell, Matthew Twigg, Nikki Baccilie, Inge Van Bogaert, R Marchant, Christopher A. Mitchell, Ibrahim M Banat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Abstract: Sophorolipids are glycolipid biosurfactants consisting of a carbohydrate sophorose head with a fatty acid tail and exist in either an acidic or lactonic form. Sophorolipids are gaining interest as potential cancer chemotherapeutics due to their inhibitory effects on a range of tumour cell lines. Currently, most anti-cancer studies reporting the effects of sophorolipids have focused on lactonic preparations with the effects of acidic sophorolipids yet to be elucidated. We produced a 94% pure acidic sophorolipid preparation which proved to be non-toxic to normal human colonic and lung cells. In contrast, we observed a dose-dependent reduction in viability of colorectal cancer lines treated with the same preparation. Acidic sophorolipids induced apoptosis and necrosis, reduced migration, and inhibited colony formation in all cancer cell lines tested. Furthermore, oral administration of 50 mg kg −1 acidic sophorolipids over 70 days to Apc min+/− mice was well tolerated and resulted in an increased haematocrit, as well as reducing splenic size and red pulp area. Oral feeding did not affect tumour numbers or sizes in this model. This is the first study to show that acidic sophorolipids dose-dependently and specifically reduces colon cancer cell viability in addition to reducing tumour-associated bleeding in the Apc min+/− mouse model. Key points: • Acidic sophorolipids are produced by yeast species such as Starmerella bombicola. • Acidic sophorolipids selectively killed colorectal cells with no effect on healthy gut epithelia. • Acidic sophorolipids reduced tumour-associated gut bleed in a colorectal mouse model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6003-6016
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number18
Early online date15 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by both the European FP7 Project grant number 289219 “BIOSURFING” and Invest Northern Ireland Proof of Concept grant number 826.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Acidic
  • Apc
  • Cancer
  • Colorectal
  • Sophorolipids
  • Apcmin+/−
  • Glycolipids/pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hematocrit
  • Oleic Acids
  • Colorectal Neoplasms/drug therapy
  • Animals
  • Mice


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