Resveratrol destroys dangerous cancer cells from the inside and improves the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy

April 07, 2008

The antioxidant Resveratrol, found in grape skins and red wine, can cripple the function of pancreatic cancer cells while sensitizing them to chemotherapy, says new research. Resveratrol is known for its ability to protect plants from bacteria and fungi, while previous research has also found it helps prevent the negative effects of high-calorie diets and has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer potential.
While this study, published this month in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, looked at the way the antioxidant may aid pancreatic cancer treatment, it also contributes to the growing knowledge on the health benefits arising from ingredients of red wine.
As well as disabling the function of the cancer cells by reaching and reacting with the mitochondria (the cell's energy source), researchers found that when cancer cells were pre-treated with Resveratrol before radiation treatment, it resulted in a type of cell death called apoptosis; robbing the cancer of its “immortality”. This is an important goal of cancer therapy.
"Antioxidant research is very active and very seductive right now," said Paul Okunieff, chief of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre. "The challenge lies in finding the right concentration and how it works inside the cell. Resveratrol seems to have a therapeutic gain by making tumor cells more sensitive to radiation and making normal tissue less sensitive."

The study

To build on such findings, Dr. Okunieff began studying Resveratrol as a tumor sensitizer; that is when the link to the mitochondria was discovered. Researchers divided pancreatic cancer cells into two groups: one group of cells was treated with Resveratrol and the other group wasn’t, and then both groups were then treated with radiation. The study found that Resveratrol reduced the function of proteins in the pancreatic cancer cell outer boundary (cell membranes) responsible for pumping chemotherapy out of the cell, therefore making them more sensitive to the treatment; the cell was not able to expel the radiation. Additionally, the antioxidant triggered the production of free radicals (unstable species of oxygen) causing apoptosis (cell death), and depolarized the mitochondrial membranes, indicating a decrease in the cell's potential to function and viability. The researchers said the discovery is important because the mitochondria contains its own DNA and can continuously supply the cell with energy when functioning fully. Stopping the energy flow can therefore help stop cancer.
In investigating why the pancreatic cancer cells are particularly resistant to chemotherapy and therefore reactive to the inclusion of Resveratrol, the team found that the natural pumping of digestive enzymes to the duodenum actually flushes out chemotherapy from pancreas cells.
But as Resveratrol interferes with the cancer cells' energy source, it also may decrease the power available to pump the treatment out of the cell.
Okunieff said: "While additional studies are needed, this research indicated that Resveratrol has a promising future as part of the treatment for cancer." The study is published in the current issue of the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2008;614:179-86