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Blueberries may reduce childhood cancer risk: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 23-Feb-2009
Last updated on 25-Feb-2009 at 17:30 GMT2009-02-25T17:30:47Z

Blueberries may reduce childhood cancer risk: Study

Extracts from blueberries may reduce the size of tumours primarily found in infants and children, and improve survival, suggest new findings from a study with mice.

According to new results from the Ohio State University, mice fed the blueberry extract doubled their lifespan, and had tumours 60 per cent smaller that in control mice.

Writing in the current issue of the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, the researchers report their findings against tumours in walls of blood vessels called hemangionendotheliomas (HE), which affect about 3 per cent of children. Such tumours usually occur within four weeks of birth and more often affect premature infants. Although such tumours are often resolved naturally, they may reoccur and cause deformity, and can be life-threatening if they obstruct the airways.

“This work provides the first evidence demonstrating that blueberry extract can limit tumour formation by inhibiting the formation of blood vessels and inhibiting certain signalling pathways,” said lead author Gayle Gordillo.

“Oral administration of blueberry extract represents a potential therapeutic strategy [against] endothelial cell tumours in children.”

The research could boost further the healthy image of the berry, already firmly engrained in consumer's minds for its apparent cholesterol lowering abilities, as well as indications that the fruit could offer protection from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Sales of the fruit have been booming, going from £10.3m (€14.9m) in 2003 to almost £40m (€58m) in 2005, according to UK supplier BerryWorld, driven by dieticians and scientists hailing the fruit as one of nature's superfoods.

Study details

Gordillo and her co-workers investigated if oral consumption of blueberry extracts could be effective in managing HE, and, if so, what the mechanism could be.

Mice received different doses of the extract, with a dose-dependent decrease in HE tumour size recorded, in addition to “significantly enhanced survival”, said the researchers.

In terms of the mechanism, an inhibition of two pathways reported to be involved in the development of tumours, namely NF-kappaB and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). Both of these pathways reportedly result in expression of a certain protein called monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) that is important in the development of HE.

“Our hope is that if we feed blueberry juice to a child with this type of tumour, we can intervene and shrink the tumour before it becomes a big problem,” said Gordillo.

“Our next step is a pilot study with humans to see if we can measure response to the treatment using imaging techniques and the monitoring of chemical changes in the urine.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute for General Medical Sciences.

Blueberries and cancer

Previously, researchers from Rutgers University told attendees at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society that extracts may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Data from a rat study indicated that supplementation with pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, produced 57 per cent fewer pre-cancerous lesions in the colon than rats not supplemented with the blueberry compound.

Source: Antioxidants & Redox Signaling1 January 2009, Volume 11(1): 47-58. doi:10.1089/ars.2008.2150“Oral Administration of Blueberry Inhibits Angiogenic Tumor Growth and Enhances Survival of Mice with Endothelial Cell Neoplasm”Authors: G. Gordillo, H. Fang, S. Khanna, J. Harper, G. Phillips, C.K. Sen

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