According to a team of researchers at Pennsylvania State University, compounds from grapes may kill colon cancer stem cells both in a petri dish and in mice. The compounds resveratrol which are found in grape skins and seeds, could also eventually lead to treatments to help prevent colon cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. The researchers, suggest that the findings could pave the way for clinical testing of the compounds on human colon cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women and the third in men.
If successful, the compounds could then be used in a pill to help prevent colon cancer and lessen the recurrence of the disease in colon cancer survivors.
The scientists are particularly interested in targeting stem cells because, according to cancer stem-cell theory, cancerous tumors are driven by cancer stem cells.
Cancer stem cells are capable of self-renewal, cellular differentiation and maintain their stem cell-like characteristics even after invasion and metastasis.
When taken separately in low doses, resveratrol and grape seed extract are not as effective against cancer stem-cell suppression as when they are combined together, according to the researchers.
The combined effect of grape seed extract and resveratrol may offer clues as to why cultures with a plant-based diet tend to have lower colon cancer rates.
These diets may naturally be providing a shotgun approach to cancer prevention by using a wide variety of beneficial compounds to target multiple pathways that cancer stem cells use to survive.
If successful in human trials, the compounds could be taken in low doses using currently available supplements for grape seed extract and resveratrol, which are also found in wine.
There is still more work to do to understand the mechanism behind the anti-cancer properties of the grape extract, as well as other colorful fruits and vegetables.
Further research would be aimed at finding specific anti-cancer compounds and better understanding how those compounds work synergistically to create more effective colon-cancer prevention and treatment strategies.