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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Soya 'medicine' for breast cancer
soya beans
Researchers have found soya has therapeutic effects on cancer
Scientists are hoping plant hormones found in soya could be turned into a drug to combat breast cancer in women.

Dr Karen James, from the University of Portsmouth, is investigating ways of using natural isoflavones to develop a new medicine.

It comes after tests on cancer cells using a high concentration of the hormones reduced cell growth.

Dr James said Far Eastern women who ate a lot of soya products, had lower rates of cancer than western women.

'Beneficial properties'

Dr James, from the university's School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences department, thought the test results were encouraging

"There are few drugs based on isoflavones available for clinical use and there are good reasons for this," she explained.

"Isoflavones are not very potent and they are rapidly metabolised in the body.

"The researchers are trying to find a way to make the plant hormones stay in the body longer, while still retaining their beneficial properties."

The tests also revealed lower concentrations of the hormone "stimulated" breast cancer cell growth.

Dr James added: "Isoflavones are present in many foods and they tend not to produce toxic effects, but we do not know yet whether there might be side effects from a more potent synthetic compound.

"It seems beneficial to look at any natural product that has such a diverse range of properties and try to insert those properties into useful drugs."

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