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Broccoli Compound Targets Key Enzyme in Late-Stage Cancer

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For more than 15 years, toxicology professor Leonard Bjeldanes, molecular and cell biology professor Gary Firestone, and their colleagues have studied the anti-cancer benefits of vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

Now they have identified the role that a compound called Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) plays in halting the growth of breast cancer cells. The findings are important because they could lead to designs for an I3C-based chemical that would be more effective as a drug and could work against a broader range of breast and prostate tumors.

I3C, found in Brassica-genus vegetables, is already undergoing clinical trials in humans because it was found to stop the growth of breast and prostate cancer cells in mice. It works by lowering the activity of an enzyme associated with rapidly advancing breast cancer.

“This is a major breakthrough in understanding the specific targets of these natural products,” says Bjeldanes. Graduate student Ida Aronchik and recent Ph.D. recipient Hanh H. Nguyen, along with colleagues in the Firestone and Bjeldanes labs, have already chemically modified I3C and boosted its activity in cell culture by at least a factor of 100. The teams are now searching for the best parts of the I3C molecule to modify.

-Robert Sanders

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