You always used to hear that we would find a cure for cancer out in the rainforest somewhere…some chemical extracted from an unknown plant that looked more at home on the planet of Pandora than earth. Turns out, the secret cancer fighting compounds have been hiding right under our noses, torturing small children for ages.
That’s right, broccoli possesses a certain cancer-fighting ability, and research published in the January 2011 issue of the American Cancer Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, led by Dr.Fung-Lung Chung, finally determined what’s going on.It’s apparently been shown previously by this group that certain compounds, known as isothiocyanates, found in broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, can stop the growth of cancer cells. It has, however, been unclear how this was happening…until now.
These compounds work by targeting a protein called p53. Pay attention – you WILL hear more about this protein in the life of this blog. I’m honestly a little surprised you haven’t yet. Maybe it deserves its own post one day. There are mutations in p53 in over half of all cancers. All cancers, all types – yeah it’s an important protein. It’s job in our cells is to regulate a network that senses when a cell is sick – be it DNA instability, UV radiation damage, toxic compounds or general stress – and take action. It will signal the cell to stimulate certain repair pathways or cell death pathways if the cell is too sick. Better to kill the cell than let it grow on unchecked and make a tumor, right?
That’s exactly why this protein is called a tumor suppressor. It’s responsible for stopping abnormal cell growth – which means it should keep tumors from springing up. However, when a cell gains a mutation in p53 in combination with some other factors…problems arise.
This study shows that isothiocyanates target the degradation of mutant p53 protein, but they leave the normal protein alone. This caused increased apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells – stopping tumor growth in its tracks. Now, of course you might think that you should all start eating broccoli as the cure, but I can’t imagine how much you’d have to ingest for it to be effective. Nobody likes broccoli that much.
More practically, scientists can take this knowledge, begin to study the chemical structure of the most effective isothiocyanates and design new drug compounds based on those structures. We’ll use nature’s blueprints to create new drugs for what will hopefully be powerful drugs to stop tumor growth in cancer patients. Stay tuned folks, and just for grins…keep eating those greens.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.