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
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
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
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