Researchers already know that a glass or two of red wine a day is good for the heart. Now, they've found that a naturally occurring antioxidant in grape and wine can help destroy pancreatic cancer cells.
Boffins at University of Rochester Medical Center have found that resveratrol, the natural antioxidant, can help destroy cancer cells by reaching and crippling the mitochondria, the cell's core energy source.
The study also showed that a combination of pre-treating cancer cells with resveratrol and then irradiating them induces apoptosis, a type of cell death important in cancer therapy.
Lead author Paul Okunieff, M.D., chief of Radiation Oncology at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that the finding of a link between the antioxidant and the mitochondria was critical because, like the cell nucleus, the mitochondria contains its own DNA and has the ability to continuously supply the cell with energy when functioning properly. Stopping the energy flow theoretically stops the cancer
"We've discovered an important part of that equation. Resveratrol seems to have a therapeutic gain by making tumor cells more sensitive to radiation and making normal tissue less sensitive," he said.
As a part of the study the team divided pancreatic cancer cells into two groups: cells treated without resveratrol, or with resveratrol, at a relatively high dose of 50 mg/ml, in combination with ionizing radiation.
They then analysed the mitochondria function of the cells treated with resveratrol, and also measured apoptosis (cell death), the level of reactive oxygen species in the cells, and how the cell membranes responded to the antioxidant.
Their study showed that resveratrol not only lowered the function of proteins in the pancreatic cancer cell membranes that make the cells chemo-sensitive by pumping chemotherapy out of the cell, but that the antioxidant also triggered the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are substances circulating in the human body that have been implicated in a number of diseases: when ROS is increased, cells burn out and die.
This in turn, caused apoptosis.
Other than this, the boffins also noted that resveratrol depolarized the mitochondrial membranes, which indicates a decrease in the cell's potential to function.
Okunieff added that while additional studies are needed in this field, the current study indicates that resveratrol has a promising future as part of the treatment for cancer.
The study is published in the March edition of the journal, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology.