Apparently less toxic than its natural counterpart, the compound could be marketed for cancer prevention, the researchers say. Their findings were described at the 224th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Tests in animals have shown encouraging results, but no human studies have been done. If tests confirm the findings, the compound could be developed into a once-a-day pill or vitamin component for cancer prevention and perhaps be on the market in seven to ten years, the researchers say.
"It may be easier to take a cancer-prevention pill once a day rather than rely on massive quantities of fruits and vegetables," says Jerry Kosmeder, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an investigator in the study.
Called oxomate, the synthetic compound works like its natural counterpart, sulforaphane, which was recently identified as a cancer-preventive agent in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts). Both compounds boost the body's production of phase II enzymes, which can detoxify cancer-causing chemicals and reduce cancer risk.
But the natural broccoli compound, sulforaphane, can be toxic in high doses, warns Kosmeder. He cites laboratory studies in which the compound, above certain levels, killed cultured animal cells. It is also difficult and expensive to synthesize. These factors make sulforaphane a poor candidate for drug development, he said.
Kosmeder designed oxomate to be less toxic than its parent compound by removing the chemical components that appear to be responsible for this toxicity. In tests on cultured liver cells, oxomate was seven times les