Component In Broccoli Inhibits Breast Cancer Stem Cells In Mice

Broccoli compound sulforaphane tested on breast cancer stem cells.Broccoli compound sulforaphane tested on breast cancer stem cells. Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) have found that a compound derived from broccoli may help prevent or treat breast cancer by targeting breast cancer stem cells - those cells that fuel a tumor's growth.

Members of U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and the College of Pharmacy studied the effects of  on breast cancer stem cells in mice.  Having established the number of cancer stem cells in the the individual tumors, the scientists first experimented by injecting varying amount of sulforaphane into the mice tumors.  

The U-M researchers observed that the number of cancer stem cells in the mouse tumors markedly decreased with no impact on the normal cells.  Additionally, they found that the cancer cells of sulforaphane-treated mice did not generate new tumors.

Though no clinical studies have been conducted on breast cancers in women, the researchers did test the sulforaphane on human breast cancer cells in the lab, and found similar decreases in the cancer stem cells. 

“This research suggests a potential new treatment that could be combined with other compounds to target breast cancer stem cells. Developing treatments that effectively target the cancer stem cell population is essential for improving outcomes,” says study author Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Though sulforaphane is available in capsule form as food supplements and, of course, broccoli and brocco-sprouts contain fairly high concentrations of sulforaphane, the concentrations of sulforaphane used in these studies were much higher than can be eaten. 

The U-M team will continue their research by developing a sulforaphane extract to test as a prevention and treatment for breast cancer in human clinical trials.

The researchers advise against taking the sulforaphane supplements because they say that concentrations are unregulated.  But hey, it can't hurt to eat a lot of broccoli!


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