Leading research in cancer prevention and food derivatives

If only we were all to eat enough of the right sort of fruit and vegetables every day we would almost certainly be less likely to suffer from certain cancers.

Simple as this sounds, it is difficult to persuade people to change to a healthier lifestyle, and researchers into cancer prevention at the University of Leicester are investigating pills derived from foods that are believed to prevent cancer. Work they have already done with laboratory models suggests the pills, too, could be effective.

Over the past decade, the University of Leicester Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine has become a world leader in research into chemoprevention (stopping cells becoming malignant), using substances derived from food to prevent or slow down breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Research led by Professors Andy Gescher and Will Steward (head of the University’s Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine) looks at how food-derived substances interfere with developing cancer cells, how they get into the circulation and reach the cancer tissue that is targeted, and how long they remain in the human organism. Their research results have been widely reported around the world.

Chemoprevention studies into diet-derived substances at Leicester began in 2000 with the study of the curry constituent curcumin. Since then, the research has attracted international interest and a succession of prestigious grants. Most recently, early in 2007, the University of Leicester and Leicester’s hospitals were awarded funding from Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health to set up the Leicester Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre. The Centre, the only group in the East Midlands to be awarded this funding, will receive approximately £1m over five years, which has given its research a significant boost.

Speaking of this award, Professor Steward said: “Our main aim will be to develop cancer preventative drugs. We will be recruiting normal healthy volunteers to a series of studies and take a variety of specimens to help find new ways to detect cancer early and follow its progress during treatment.

“This funding is vital to help us develop new approaches to preventing cancer and may help us to find new treatments for cancer once it has become established. We can bring together laboratory and clinical research and share knowledge and resources with other experimental cancer centres in the UK.”

Since their initial research into curcumin, Professors Will Steward and Andy Gescher have led research into resveratrol (from red berries and red wine), tricin (from brown rice), and polyphenols from tea. Their laboratory findings indicate that these food-derived substances not only appear to be effective on pre-cancerous cells, but also cancerous cells. Safe to use, they do not have the potential side effects of traditional anti-cancer drugs. The next challenge is to establish that they work effectively for humans.

If so, then derivatives from these foods could reduce the risk of some cancer in some people, and could offer alternatives to drugs currently used to treat advanced malignancy.

Speaking recently on Leicester’s research into chemoprevention at a National Cancer Research Institute Conference, Professor Steward said: “The compounds seem to work through a wide variety of mechanisms, including altering signals which reduce blood vessel formation, and by reducing DNA changes which can cause the cells to become malignant.

“We believe that this approach is a logical way to tackle the huge problem that societies face with the increasing incidence of cancer. It has to be much better to prevent or delay cancer than to treat it once it has occurred.

“If the research is successful we could prevent a huge amount of distress caused to patients and families – not just from the cancer itself, but also from the side effects of treatment.”

Source: By University Of Leicester

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