Rochester researchers showed for the first time that a natural antioxidant found in grape skins and red wine can help destroy pancreatic cancer cells by reaching to the cell's core energy source, or mitochondria, and crippling its function. The study is published in the March edition of the journal, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.
The study also showed that when the pancreatic cancer cells were doubly assaulted -- pre-treated with the antioxidant, resveratrol, and irradiated -- the combination induced a type of cell death called apoptosis, an important goal of cancer therapy.
The research has many implications for patients, said lead author Paul Okunieff, M.D., chief of Radiation Oncology at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Although red wine consumption during chemotherapy or radiation treatment has not been well studied, it is not "contraindicated," Okunieff said. In other words, if a patient already drinks red wine moderately, most physicians would not tell the patient to give it up during treatment. Perhaps a better choice, Okunieff said, would be to drink as much red or purple grape juice as desired.
Yet despite widespread interest in antioxidants, some physicians are concerned antioxidants might end up protecting tumors. Okunieff's study showed there is little evidence to support that fear. In fact, the research suggests resveratrol not only reaches its intended target, injuring the nexus of malignant cells, but at the same time protects normal tissue from the harmful effects of radiation.
"Antioxidant research is very active and very seductive right now," Okunieff said. "The challenge lies in finding the right concentration and how it works inside the cell. In this case, we've discovered an important part of that equation. Resveratrol seems to have a therapeutic gain by making tumor cells more sensitive to radiation and making normal tissue less
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University of Rochester Medical Center