Plant-Based Therapies Examined For Colon Cancer Prevention

Three therapies derived from plants will be tested at The Rockefeller University in New York City for their ability to prevent colorectal cancer, which afflicts some 150,000 Americans each year. The compounds have the potential to be safer than cancer-thwarting nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), widely used aspirin-like drugs known to prevent colorectal cancer as well as reduce related deaths by half.

Eating diets rich in fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of colorectal cancer as well as deaths from the disease, according to population-based studies. However, the chemicals in these plants responsible for the anti-cancer effect are not well known. "Certain plant-derived compounds called phenolics act similarly to NSAIDs in hindering cancer, yet may lack their bad side effects such as irritating the stomach lining or damaging the liver or kidneys," says Steven J. Shiff, M.D., assistant professor in the Laboratory of Human Behavior and Metabolism at Rockefeller. "If as effective or better than the drugs, these plant therapies might be much better tolerated for longer periods of time than NSAIDs."

In the study, Shiff and his colleagues will compare three plant-derived compounds, curcumin, rutin and quercetin, to the NSAID sulindac. The study will determine whether these naturally occuring chemicals, all potent antioxidants and antiinflammatories, can affect cells in a similar manner as sulindac, which prompts the cells to "turn on" a program of regulated cell death called apoptosis. NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen and naproxen, are among the most commonly used therapies worldwide for relieving pain and inflammation in joints and muscles.

Curcumin, notes Shiff, has been used for centuries as an antiinflammatory agent. The compound is the pigment that gives the yellow color to the seasoning curry, mustard and turmeric, the powdered form of the root of Curcuma longa Linn. Curcumin is an approved additi

Contact: Marion E. Glick or Joseph Bonner
Rockefeller University

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