A natural compound extracted from grape seeds makes laboratory leukemia cells commit suicide, according to a new study by the University of Kentucky. When exposed to the extract, 76 percent of the leukemia cells were dead within 24 hours.
The extract forces leukemia cells to commit “apoptosis,” or cell suicide, which is a kind of programmed cell death that cells in the body undergo either in the normal course of growth and development or when something goes wrong with them. Leukemia and other cancers block the cell signaling pathway that allows apoptosis—this is how cancer keeps the defenses of the body at bay. Grape seed extract activates a protein called JNK that regulates the apoptotic pathway and allows damaged cells to commit suicide.
Grape seed extract has already shown beneficial activity in other laboratory cancer cell lines, including breast, skin, lung, and prostate cancers. Before the new study, however, no one had tested the effects of grape seed on hematological cancers, and neither had anyone found the exact mechanism involved.
“What everyone seeks is an agent that has an effect on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone, and this shows that grape seed extract fits into this category,” said study author Xianglin Shi, Ph.D., who emphasized that research is still in an early stage. Hematological cancers, including leukemia, caused almost 54,000 deaths in 2006, making them the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
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