Public Release:  Plant-derived anti-cancer compounds explained at national conference

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

SAN DIEGO, April 4, 2014 - Compounds derived from plant-based sources -- including garlic, broccoli and medicine plants -- confer protective effects against breast cancer, explain researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with the UPMC CancerCenter.

In multiple presentations Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2014, UPCI scientists will update the cancer research community on their National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded findings, including new discoveries about the mechanisms by which the plant-derived compounds work.

"In recent years, we've made some very encouraging discoveries indicating that certain plants contain cancer-fighting compounds," said Shivendra Singh, Ph.D., UPMC Chair in Cancer Prevention Research and professor in Pitt's Department of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology.

"By understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these plant-derived compounds work against breast cancer, we hope to find efficient ways to use them to prevent and fight cancer in patients."

At the AACR poster session "Mechanisms of Chemoprevention," Dr. Singh will oversee four presentations by Pitt pharmacology & chemical biology researchers on plant-derived compound discoveries in his laboratory.

  • Dr. Singh will discuss how withaferin A, derived from an Indian medicine plant, binds to tubulin, a well-known target for drug treatment in breast and other cancers. This compound binds tubulin in the cancer at a site distinct from those affected by other clinically used tubulin targeting agents. Notably, this effect of withaferin A is selective for cancerous breast cells.

  • Eun-Ryeong Hahm, Ph.D., will discuss how diallyl trisulfide, an oil-soluble molecule created by chewing of allium vegetables, such as garlic, decreases levels of the estrogen receptor-alpha protein in breast cancer cells and inhibits growth of breast cancer stem cells by decreasing levels of two other proteins.

  • Su-Hyeong Kim, Ph.D., will discuss how benzyl isothiocyanate, a molecule found in edible cruciferous vegetables, such as garden cress, works in breast cancer cells to decrease levels of Bmi-1, a protein that controls genes responsible for cell proliferation.

  • Anuradha Sehrawat, Ph.D., will discuss how breast cancer stem cell growth is inhibited when a protein called Ron sensitizes the stem cells to the benzyl isothiocyanate molecule in cruciferous vegetables. The molecule then induces breast cancer stem cell death.


This work was supported by NCI grants RO1 CA142604-04, P30 CA047904, RO1 CA113363-09 and RO1 CA129347-07.

About UPCI

As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community-based outreach services. Investigators at UPCI, a partner with UPMC CancerCenter, are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research.

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