Does broccoli help against cancer?

Plant material restores function of tumor suppressors

An ingredient in broccoli could inhibit tumor growth. © Mizina / thinkstock
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Healthy vegetables: An ingredient in broccoli and Brussels sprouts could inhibit the growth of tumors. As experiments show, the substance acts on an enzyme that disturbs the functioning of so-called tumor suppressors. As a result, these anti-cancer agents can again be fully effective. However, to consume tons of broccoli, according to the researchers, but still no solution.

So-called tumor suppressors are proteins that control the life cycle of cells and can trigger their apoptosis. In this way, they prevent, among other things, that damaged cells continue to divide uncontrollably. Without this control mechanism threatening sensitive consequences: If the function of tumor suppressors is disturbed, the risk of cancer increases.

A particularly influential tumor suppressor is the phosphatase PTEN. Previous research has shown that this enzyme is involved in the development of many cancers. The tumor cells in the body often have only very small amounts of active PTEN. But what if that could change?

Inhibited tumor suppressor

Scientists around Yu-Ru Lee from Harvard Medical School in Boston have now investigated this question. They first tried to find out which influences the activity and function of the tumor suppressor. In experiments with human cells and mice it turned out: Apparently a gene called WWP1 plays a crucial role.

As the researchers report, this DNA section contains the blueprint for an enzyme that interferes with the activity of the cancer-inhibiting phosphatase. Therefore, they searched specifically for a molecule that could in turn inhibit this culprit, and found it: Indole-3-carbinol seemed to be due to its structure suitable for this task - a secondary plant compound, which is included, inter alia, in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, display

Plant material with potential

After initial research confirmed the potential of this broccoli ingredient, the team of scientists conducted tests on particularly cancerous mice. The result: Indole-3-carbinol-treated rodents developed significantly smaller and lighter tumors than their untreated counterparts. In contrast, the cancer progressed unchecked in these control animals.

The researchers deduce from these results promising new opportunities for the treatment of tumor diseases. "We have identified a major player in the development of cancer, an enzyme that can be inhibited with a natural plant compound, " summarizes Lee's colleague Paolo Pandolfi.

Drug instead of raw food

But even if the findings of the team should confirm in further studies: With broccoli and co, the carcinogenesis probably can not influence. "In order to achieve an effect at all, you would have to consume almost 2.7 kilograms of Brussels sprouts every day - raw, " states Lee.

A better method, therefore, would be the use of pharmaceuticals with indole-3-carbinol or other WWP1 inhibitors. A genetic engineering inactivation of the WWP1 gene would also be a conceivable approach. First, however, the function of WWP1 and its interaction with the tumor suppressor PTEN must be further investigated, as they emphasize. (Science, 2019, doi: 10.1126 / science.aau0159)

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

- Daniel Albat