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Grape expectations: Wine may be source of anti-cancer agent

by Paul Dingsdale

Early findings by USC/Norris research oncologist Heinz-Josef Lenz suggest a chemical in grapes may have anti-cancer properties.

In recent years, hundreds of plant extracts have been evaluated for their effects against cancer. Recently, a chemical called resveratrol has been isolated in grape skins.

Resveratrol is present in many foods, but the richest source is in the skins and seeds of grapes – where the chemical acts as a defense mechanism against bad weather. Tested in the laboratory on breast and skin cancer cells in mice, resveratrol was effective in three stages of cell changes in cancer – initiation, promotion and progression.

Lenz presented his findings on the chemical’s effectiveness in the fight against colon cancer this month at the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.

Noting that studies have shown that resveratrol inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer cell lines, Lenz said he decided to study the molecular targets of resveratrol on colon cancer cell lines. He found resveratrol may block activation of genes involved in the initiation of cell death, which may explain how resveratrol can prevent cancer development.

Some of the genes affected by resveratrol may in fact sensitize tumors to anticancer drugs. “The early indicators are very promising, and the next stage is to combine the resveratrol with chemotherapy in clinical trials,” said Lenz.

We’ve all been taught that eating fruits and vegetables helps to prevent cancer and other diseases. The results of this study provide important new insights into how a natural substance can exert a protective effect.

Still, one might think that Lenz has a vested interest in the research. His family has been producing Reisling wines (naturally high in resveratrol) in the Rheinhessen region of Germany since the sixteenth century

Grape expectations: Wine may be source of anti-cancer agent

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