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Breast cancer breakthrough: broccoli component zaps cells that fuel tumor growth

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: broccoli, breast cancer, health news

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(NaturalNews) University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center scientists say they've found a compound that could help prevent and potentially treat breast cancer. It's not a drug or a new radiation treatment but a natural component of broccoli and broccoli sprouts. And it has the remarkable ability to target cancer stem cells -- the specific cells responsible for fueling the growth of cancerous breast tumors.

The researchers tested the broccoli compound, known as sulforaphane, in animal studies as well as in breast cancer cell cultures in the lab. Their findings, which were recently published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, showed sulforaphane not only targeted and killed cancer stem cells, but it also prevented any new malignancies from growing.

What makes this such an extraordinary breakthrough? Current chemotherapies don't do anything to stop cancer stem cells. That's why cancer can recur and spread after chemotherapy. So many researchers have long believed that to control cancer, you have to find a way to eliminate cancer stem cells -- and now it appears sulforaphane does exactly that.

"Sulforaphane has been studied previously for its effects on cancer, but this study shows that its benefit is in inhibiting the breast cancer stem cells. This new insight suggests the potential of sulforaphane or broccoli extract to prevent or treat cancer by targeting the critical cancer stem cells," study author Duxin Sun, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the U-M College of Pharmacy and a researcher with the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement to the media.

For their study, the U-M researchers first worked with mice with breast cancer. They used several well-documented methods to assess the number of cancer stem cells in the animals' breast tumors. Then the research team injected varying concentrations of sulforaphane extracted from broccoli into the mice.

The results? There was a dramatic decrease in the number of cancer stem cells after treatment with sulforaphane, but there was little effect on the normal cells.What's more, the cancer cells from mice treated with sulforaphane were unable to generate new tumors.

Next, the scientists tested sulforaphane on human breast cancer cell cultures in the lab. Once again, they found the numbers of cancer stem cells plummeted after exposure to the broccoli compound.

"This research suggests a potential new treatment that could be combined with other compounds to target breast cancer stem cells. Developing treatments that effectively target the cancer stem cell population is essential for improving outcomes," study co-author Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in the press statement.

The scientists pointed out that concentrations of sulforaphane used in the study were higher than what can be normally achieved by eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts. However, previous research suggests the body can absorb high enough concentrations of sulforaphane from broccoli extract to impact cancer. Currently, the U-M research team is working to develop a method to extract and preserve sulforaphane. They are also planning a future clinical trial to test sulforaphane both as a prevention and treatment for breast cancer.

NaturalNews has previously reported on additional health benefits of broccoli. For example, broccoli sprouts have been found to potentially play a protective role in the prevention of gastric cancer by reducing colonization of the cancer and ulcer-linked bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the body (http://www.naturalnews.com/026018_sprouts_br...).

Research by University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) scientists also found that sulforaphane in broccoli appears to protect against respiratory inflammation that causes asthma, allergic rhinitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other conditions that make it hard to breathe (http://www.naturalnews.com/025771_broccoli_a...).

Editor's note: NaturalNews is opposed to the use of animals in medical experiments that expose them to harm. We present these findings in protest of the way in which they were acquired.

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