"Everyone knows broccoli is good for you and that it contains compounds known to lessen the occurrence of some types of cancer. We want to know how these compounds work and what their specific targets may be," says Janet V. Cross, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Cross and her colleague Dennis J. Templeton, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the UVa Department of Pathology have received a $1.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study how specific nutrients in healthy vegetables like broccoli work to prevent cancer.
Cross and Templeton found that nutrients in broccoli unexpectedly bond with a specific enzyme in cells. This enzyme had been clearly linked to inflammatory disease processes, but Cross solidified a link with cancer when she found that mice who did not have the gene for this enzyme developed far fewer cancers when given carcinogens.
"If we can determine that this specific enzyme is the reason the compounds in broccoli work to prevent cancer, then these nutrients or similar chemicals could be turned into anti-cancer compounds," she says.
The incorporation of these compounds into a cancer prevention treatment that comes in a pill or liquid form could enhance the concept of stopping cancers before they start.
For Cross, there is also a personal pull to developing anti-cancer compounds. "The real irony is that I can't stand broccoli," she says.