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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 18:11 GMT
Natural defence against cancer
Grapes
The chemical is found in grapes
A natural substance found in red wine, mulberries, peanuts and beansprouts may help prevent cancer.

The molecule - called resveratrol - helps to fight the fungus that can blight many crops.

But researchers have discovered that it is also converted in the body to a known anti-cancer agent that can selectively target and destroy cancer cells.

Studies have suggested before that resveratrol might be cancer preventing - but this is the first time that scientists have gained a deeper insight into the underlying mechanism.


Learning from nature in this way will help in our work to design drugs

Professor Gerry Potter
The research was carried out by Professor Gerry Potter and his team from Leicester's De Montfort University.

Professor Potter said: "Learning from nature in this way will help in our work to design drugs which are selectively activated in a tumour and can form the basis of anti cancer-treatments.

"Resveratrol is a defensive molecule against fungus in grapes and other crops, and is found at higher levels in those which have not been treated with man-made fungicides."

Tumour enzyme

The researchers found that resveratrol is processed by an enzyme called CYP1B1, which is found on a variety of different types of tumours.

This converts resveratol into a toxic product called piceatannol.

Previous research by the Leicester team has shown that this process is restricted to the tumour itself, limiting the toxicity to the cancer cells and serving to selectively destroy them.

Scientists previously believed that CYP1B1 was a cause of cancer, because it is only found in tumours and not in healthy tissue.

Far from causing cancer, they think the enzyme is there to fight it and the team is continuing research into ways to assist it in its work.

Preventative properties

Professor Potter said: "The belief that CYP1B1 is a cause of cancer is like blaming police for a crime just because they are on the scene.

"We suspected this natural product might be beneficial for health and have cancer preventative properties.

"This research shows just how it could prevent tumours developing by producing these anti-cancer molecules within the cancer cells themselves."

Sir Paul Nurse, Joint Director General of Cancer Research UK said: "Specifically targeting cancer cells in order to destroy them is an important area of investigation which could ultimately lead to more effective drugs with fewer side effects."

The research is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

See also:

26 Dec 01 | Health
Tumour cell growth blocked
24 Sep 01 | Health
Tree chemicals could fight cancer
16 Feb 02 | Health
Vegetable 'link' to cancer
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