Researchers study natural products that may prevent certain cancers

WINSTON-SALEM Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have been awarded a $1 million grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study properties of a folk medicine and a food spice that show promise in reducing the risk of some cancers, including prostate, colorectal and breast, and enhancing cancer treatment.

The folk medicine propolis and the food spice turmeric are rich in plant polyphenolic compounds that exhibit potent antitumor activities. Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE) is the major active ingredient in propolis, a resinous substance collected by bees from the bark and leaves of trees and plants. Propolis extracts have been used since ancient times as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory remedies and in more recent studies CAPE has protected mice against radiation induced inflammation and skin damage and rats against certain forms of heart muscle damage following chemotherapy treatment.

Curcumin is the yellow pigment of the spice turmeric. Based on studies that showed dramatically reduced rates of colon cancer in populations with diets rich in curcumin, studies on the potential of curcumin to prevent cancer are underway. Human clinical trials have been initiated in the past five years, and the National Cancer Institute has been developing curcumin as an anti-cancer agent since 1988.

"A very interesting property of these compounds is that they have been shown to cause cell death in tumor cells but not in normal cells," said Costas Koumenis, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead investigator of the new study.

"Based on these interesting properties of CAPE and curcumin and their good safety profile, our lab has carried out studies in cell cultures and experimental animal tumors, showing that the compounds can make tumor cells more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiation, while having little effect or even reducing some of the toxic effects of radiation

Contact: Jonnie Rohrer
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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