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Scientists Probe Broccoli and Cabbage Anti-Cancer Benefits

Lee Swanson Research Update

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February 2009

Texas researchers have identified a pathway to explain how a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may protect against pancreatic cancer.

The tissue of cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, contain high levels of the active plant chemicals glucosinolates. These are metabolized by the body into isothiocyanates, which are known to be powerful anti-carcinogens.

Ravi Sahu and Sanjay Srivastava from Texas Tech University Health Services Center in Amarillo report that one such isothiocyanate—benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC)—may be protecting against tumors in the pancreas via a mechanism dependent on the protein STAT-3.

The results, published online ahead of print in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, extend understanding of the potential anti-cancer benefits of such vegetables.

Sahu and Srivastava investigated the effects of BITC on pancreatic cancer cell lines grown in culture and on a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Using different BITC concentrations ranging from five to 40 micromoles, the researchers incubated the human cells with the compound and studied how STAT-3 protein activation was affected.

According to background information from the authors, the STAT-3 protein promotes the survival and proliferation of cancer cells.

Exposure of the cells to BITC reportedly increased cell death (apoptosis) by reducing the amount of activated STAT-3 protein. When cells were used that over-expressed STAT-3 the protective effect of BITC was eliminated, they said.

Importantly, the researchers added that the health of normal pancreatic cells was not affected by BITC. "Taken together, these findings may provide the basis for further preclinical and clinical investigation of BITC for the chemoprevention or chemotherapy of pancreatic cancer," the authors concluded.

Journal of the National Cancer Institute Published online ahead of print

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