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Drugs from Vegetables May Target Melanoma Tumors

Posted: March 6, 2009

New research has shown compounds from veggies such as cabbage and broccoli can potentially be used a treatment for melanoma, offering encouraging prospects for the battle against the deadly skin cancer.

A drug based on compounds extracted from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage could offer a potent and safe treatment against melanoma, Penn State College of Medicine researchers say. In mice, a combination of these vegetable compounds—called isothiocyanates—and selenium slowed production and blocked the signaling network of a protein called Akt3, which plays a role in melanoma development, and reduced tumor growth by 60%.

"There are currently no drugs to target the proteins that trigger melanoma. We have developed drugs from naturally occurring compounds that can inhibit the growth of tumors in mice by 50 to 60% with a very low dose," Gavin Robertson, an associate professor of pharmacology, pathology and dermatology, said in a Penn State news release.

The potency of isothiocyanates is so low that a useful drug would require impractically large amounts of the compounds. Instead, the researchers altered the vegetable-based compounds by replacing their sulfur bonds with selenium, resulting in a more powerful drug that can be delivered intravenously at low doses. The new drug is called isoselenocyanate.

"Selenium deficiency is common in cancer patients, including those diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Besides, selenium is known to destabilize Akt proteins in prostate cancer cells," Robertson said.