Researchers at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center have managed to separate the anti-cancer properties of Vitamin D from its other functions like bone development. It is generally accepted that Vitamin D helps protect against colorectal cancer, but high dosage intended to take advantage of its anticancer properties might lead to calcium toxicity.
"We found that we might be able to separate the two functions at the molecular level, and this raises the possibility that vitamin D can be chemically modified into a drug that will only have anticancer effects," said Professor Stephen Byers, Ph.D.
Byers led a team of international researchers in collaboration with Salimuddin Shah, Ph.D. for this study. The findings are published in the journal Molecular Cell. It was found that that mutant forms of the protein that initiate binding with Vitamin D prevent it from exerting its effects on bone development and calcium transport, but do not hinder its anti-cancer property contained in a protein known as beta catenin. "We know beta catenin is also involved in regulation of hair growth and we wondered if these particular mutations might also allow the receptor to regulate beta catenin," Byers said. "We found a mutation which caused rickets but not alopecia but which still allowed beta catenin to bind to the vitamin D receptor." If indeed a drug highlighting the anti-cancer property of the vitamin can be developed, it could be useful in early stage cancers, but not in advanced or terminal cancers, "That's because we know that by the time colon cancer is well advanced it fails to respond to vitamin D," Byers stressed.
Contact: Liz McDonald
Georgetown University Medical Center