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Link Between Cancer and Eating Fruit and Vegetables


How Eating Fruit and Vegetables Can Improve Cancer Patients’ Response to Chemotherapy

UC Riverside study describes how naturally occurring apigenin facilitates the death of cancer cells

(October 22, 2008)

Xin Cai (left) is a postdoctoral researcher working in Xuan Liu's lab at UC Riverside.  Liu (right) is a professor of biochemistry.  Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.Enlarge

Xin Cai (left) is a postdoctoral researcher working in Xuan Liu's lab at UC Riverside. Liu (right) is a professor of biochemistry. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The leading cause of death in all cancer patients continues to be the resistance of tumor cells to chemotherapy, a form of treatment in which chemicals are used to kill cells.

Now a study by UC Riverside biochemists that focuses on cancer cells reports that ingesting apigenin – a naturally occurring dietary agent found in vegetables and fruit – improves cancer cells’ response to chemotherapy.

Xuan Liu, a professor of biochemistry, and Xin Cai, a postdoctoral researcher working in her lab, found that apigenin localizes tumor suppressor p53, a protein, in the cell nucleus – a necessary step for killing the cell that results in some tumor cells responding to chemotherapy.

The study, published this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a novel approach to conquer tumor resistance to chemotherapy, and suggests an avenue for developing safe chemotherapy via naturally occurring agents.

Normally, cells have low levels of p53 diffused in their cytoplasm and nucleus. When DNA in the nucleus is damaged, p53 moves to the nucleus where it activates genes that stop cell growth and cause cell death. In this way, p53 ensures that cells with damaged DNA are killed.

In many cancers, p53 is rendered inactive by a process called cytoplasmic sequestration. Apigenin is able to activate p53 and transport it into the nucleus, resulting in a stop to cell growth and cell death.

“In therapy you want to kill cancer cells,” explained Cai, the first author of the research paper. “But to stop cell growth and to kill the cell, p53 first needs to be moved to the cell’s nucleus to function. Apigenin is very effective in localizing p53 this way.”

Apigenin is mainly found in fruit (including apples, cherries, grapes), vegetables (including parsley, artichoke, basil, celery), nuts and plant-derived beverages (including tea and wine). It has been shown by researchers to have growth inhibitory properties in several cancer lines, including breast, colon, skin, thyroid and leukemia cells. It has also been shown to inhibit pancreatic cancer cell proliferation.

“Our study advocates the inclusion of vegetables and fruit in our daily diet to help prevent cancer,” said Liu, the research paper’s coauthor.

The National Institutes of Health supported the five-year study.

Next in their research Liu and Cai plan to design therapies for cancer by finding compounds that are like, but perform better than, apigenin.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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