(NaturalNews) Grapes, grape juice and wine made from grapes have been in the news for the last few years -- making headlines for their potential heart protective benefits. Now there's another reason to appreciate the healthy phytochemicals contained in grapes. Researchers from the University of Kentucky have found a natural substance in the fruit that's deadly to malignant leukemia cells. The powerful cancer fighter, derived from grape seeds, triggered the death of 76 percent of leukemia cells exposed to the extract in a laboratory experiment.
The scientists just reported this study in the January 1, 2009, issue of Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. They also published data that reveals the cell signaling pathway that grape seed extract impacts to trigger the death, or apoptosis, of leukemia cells. The University of Kentucky researchers concluded the extract "turns on" a protein known as JNK that regulates the cancer-cell killing pathway.
"These results could have implications for the incorporation of agents such as grape seed extract into prevention or treatment of hematological malignancies and possibly other cancers," the study's lead author, Xianglin Shi, Ph.D., professor in the Graduate Center for Toxicology at the University of Kentucky, said in a statement to the media.
Dr. Shi and his research team have been studying chemicals called proanthocyanidins in fruits that epidemiological evidence shows may prevent the development of cancer. In additional studies, Dr. Shi and colleagues discovered that apple peel extract contains antioxidant-rich flavonoids which cause several cancer cell lines to die.
Based on this earlier research, as well as studies from other scientists showing grape seed extract reduces breast tumors in rats and skin tumors in mice, the University of Kentucky scientists decided to see what effect the natural components of grape seed extract might have on leukemia cells. Although grape seed extract has already shown activity against several other forms of cancer cell lines in the lab, including skin, breast, colon, lung, stomach and prostate cancers, this is the first time the natural substance has been tested on hematological cancers.
This category of cancers, which the National Cancer Institute lists as the fourth leading cause of cancer incidence and death in the U.S., involve the uncontrolled growth of cells that have similar functions and origins and includes leukemias, lymphomas, and myeloma. Leukemia is specifically a cancer of blood and the bone marrow.
Dr. Shi and his team exposed leukemia cells to a commercially available grape seed extract in different doses. They found the higher doses had the most marked effect in causing the death of the cancer cells. They also discovered that the extract does nothing to harm normal cells.
"What everyone seeks is an agent that has an effect on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone, and this shows that grape seed extract fits into this category," Dr. Shi stated in the media release.
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.