Scientists Find Cancer-Fighting Agents in Berries

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by Zoya Zaslav

A study funded by the U.S. Agriculture Department has
found the popular berries contain agents that do battle
with cancer cells, said Lyndon Larcom, a microbiologist
and biophysicist leading the research team.

"We've found that blueberries and strawberries have
significant inhibition on cell growth," he said.
Berries Resist Mutations "With the strawberry juice,
there are less than half as many mutations," he said,
"and with blueberries there are somewhere around half
as many."

Scientists around the world have confirmed the
correlation between diets rich in fruits and vegetables
and a lower incidence of cancer. Now berries can be added
to the list.

"The question," says Larcom, "is 'Why?'"

Once the tumor-preventing compounds are identified,
they may be able to be concentrated in a pill form, much
like vitamins, or bioengineered in larger amounts in
berries or in other plants, Larcom said.

"There are thousands of chemicals in the berries," he
said. "And the thing we're working against here is that
the activity is likely not due to just one, but probably
some sort of synergistic effect."

Watching Berry Pulp at Work

Researchers at Clemson's Kinard Lab place cancer cells in
a dish equipped with tiny wells. Then they add berry juice
or pulp, as well as a chemical that measures the rate at
which the cells grow, and examine that growth during the
rapid division phase as well as the latent phase.

The extracts appear to be most effective in the early
stages when cells are just beginning to grow, Larcom said.

The team also is examining the berries' effect on
agents inside cells known as tumor suppressor proteins,
which are involved in slowing down cell division and
destroying cancer cells, he said.

Larcom says the study is in its second year and the
team expects to publish its results in a medical journal
next summer.

Clemson graduate student Hope Smith, Clemson
microbiologist Dr. George Huang, Dr. Otto Geoffroy at the
Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Sam Smith, an
oncologist at Greenville Hospital System, and Dr. David
Wedge of the Agriculture Department are all involved in
the study.

Future Food Enhancer?

Elizabeth Tuckermanty, nutritionist and program director
for the Fund for Rural America, the competitive grant arm
of USDA, said the research holds "exciting commercial
aspects," noting that cereals, breads and other foods are
fortified with vitamins said to inhibit cancer.

"There is a precedent for it and a lot of interest
from corporations in doing that kind of thing," she said,
noting that research is being conducted into a variety of

"We are looking at a lot of fruits and vegetables and
any piece of information we have is valuable," she
said. "There is a wealth of different substances in every
food that we don't know about."


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