May Fight Cancer, Too
LONDON (Reuters Health) - Scientists said on Tuesday they had
gained fresh insight into how a natural anti-fungal agent found
in grapes and other crops may help prevent cancer.
Researchers from the School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University,
Leicester, UK, reported in the British Journal of Cancer that resveratrol
is converted in the body to a known anti-cancer agent that can selectively
target and destroy cancer cells.
Although previous studies have suggested that this phytoestrogen
might prevent cancer, they said it was the "first time that scientists
had gained an insight into the underlying mechanism of the chemical's
Professor Gerry Potter, the research group leader, said in a
news release: "Resveratrol is a defensive molecule against fungus
in grapes and other crops, and is found at higher levels in those
which have not been treated with man-made fungicides.
"Learning from nature in this way will help in our work to design
drugs which are selectively activated in a tumour and can form
the basis of anti-cancer treatments."
The researchers found that resveratrol is processed by the enzyme
CYP1B1, which is found in a variety of different tumours. This
converts resveratrol into piceatannol, a closely related phytoestrogen
with known anti-cancer activity.
Previous research by the team has shown that this process is
restricted to the tumour itself, limiting the toxicity to the
cancer cells and serving to selectively destroy them.
Scientists previously believed that CYP1B1 was a cause of cancer,
because it is only found in tumours and not in healthy tissue.
Far from causing cancer, they now think the enzyme is there to
fight it and the team is continuing research into ways to assist
it in its work.
"The belief that CYP1B1 is a cause of cancer is like blaming
police for a crime just because they are on the scene," Potter
said. "We suspected this natural product might be beneficial for
health and have cancer preventative properties. This research
shows just how it could prevent tumours developing by producing
these anti-cancer molecules within the cancer cells themselves."
The team is also looking into the beneficial effects of Brassica
vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage that contain a molecule
that activates the CYP1B1 enzyme.
SOURCE: British Journal of Cancer 2002;5.
Reference Source 89