Jan. 6, 2004 COLLEGE STATION - Broccoli, cabbage, turnips and mustard greens. A dose a day keeps most cancers away.
But for those who develop cancer, the same vegetables may ultimately produce the cure. Research at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station has led to a patent for a new use for derivatives of DIM, or diindolylmethane, a natural compound derived from certain vegetables, to treat cancer.
"We took advantage of a natural chemical, that research has shown will prevent cancer, and developed several more analogs," said Dr. Steve Safe, an Experiment Station chemist who has been studying cancer for about 10 years.
Safe's patent has been picked up by Plantacor, a new biotech company headquartered in College Station, and is expected to enter clinical trials soon in collaboration with M.D. Anderson in Houston.
DIM already is commercially available as a natural supplement for cancer prevention and for treating estrogen-related health issues.
"DIM is a potent substance," Safe said. "But we made it even more potent against various tumors."
The first development in this research using chemically altered DIM from broccoli came when the growth of breast cancer cells was inhibited in laboratory studies. Subsequent research showed these compounds also inhibited growth of pancreatic, colon, bladder and ovarian cancer cells in culture, Safe said. Limited trials on lab mice and rats have produced the similar results, he noted.
Safe said the research began by considering compounds that protect a person from developing cancer. Journal articles of other researchers are stacked on Safe's expansive desk, extolling the scientific evidence that cruciferous vegetables prevent cancer.
His team wondered whether the similar compounds could be developed for treatment of cancer. They looked at the mechanism - how the compounds block cancer cell growth - and found that they target PPAR gamma, a protein that is highly active in fat cells. However, this same PPAR gamma is over-expressed in many tumors and tumor cells and is a potential target for new drugs, he said.
Safe's lab chemically modified "natural" DIM to give a series of compounds that target the PPAR gamma and stop the growth of cancer.
"One of the best parts is that this treatment appears to have minimal or no side effects, in the mice trials; it just stops tumor growth," he said. "The hope now is that the patented chemicals can be developed into useful drugs for clinical trials and then be used for cancer treatment.
"It looks promising in cancer cells and animals at this time. We need future studies in humans to see if it is beneficial with people as well," he added.
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