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Researchers reveal possibility of separating anticancer properties of vitamin D

Washington, D.C. -- At the right dose, vitamin D is important for bone development and may help protect against the development of several cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. However, large quantities designed to exploit the vitamin's anticancer properties can lead to a toxic overdose of calcium in the blood. Now, research done at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center indicates that it may be possible to separate the anticancer properties of vitamin D from its other functions.

Their study, reported in the journal Molecular Cell, found that mutant forms of the protein that binds to vitamin D in the cell do not allow vitamin D to promote bone development and calcium transport but do permit it to regulate an oncogenic protein known as beta catenin. Some modified forms of vitamin D itself, which do not alter bone and calcium, were also found to regulate beta-catenin.

"We found that we might be able to separate the two functions at the molecular level, and this raises the possibility that vitamin D can be chemically modified into a drug that will only have anticancer effects," said Professor Stephen Byers, Ph.D. He and Salimuddin Shah, Ph.D., led an international group of investigators in this study.

The human body produces a lot of vitamin D from a brief exposure of the sun. The vitamin is made in the skin when a cholesterol-like molecule interacts with ultraviolet light. It has long been known that a lack of vitamin D can lead to the bone deformities associated with rickets, and the vitamin helps maintain calcium and phosphorous levels in bone and blood. Too much vitamin D, however, can spill calcium into the blood and lead to heart disease and death.

Population studies have also uncovered an interesting fact -- that the risk of developing colon cancer is lower in people who live in sunny climates. Epidemiology studies have indicated that vitamin D is responsible for the protective effect of sunlight exposu
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Contact: Liz McDonald
eem6@georgetown.edu
202-687-5100
Georgetown University Medical Center
17-Mar-2006


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