A compound in green tea has been found to kill mouth cancer cells while leaving healthy cells undamaged. While it was known the drink could help fight the disease, scientists say they have now worked out why. The breakthrough involved identifying the process by which the substance attacks cancer cells. This, it is hoped, will lead to new treatments for oral cancer, as well as other forms of the disease.
Earlier studies had shown that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a compound found in green tea, killed oral cancer cells without harming normal cells, but researchers did not understand the reasons for its ability to target the cancer cells, said Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science and co-director of Penn States Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. The current study shows that EGCG may trigger a process in the mitochondria that leads to cell death.
Turning cancer cells off
EGCG is doing something to damage the mitochondria and that mitochondrial damage sets up a cycle causing more damage and it spirals out, until the cell undergoes programmed cell death, said Lambert. It looks like EGCG causes the formation of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells, which damages the mitochondria, and the mitochondria responds by making more reactive oxygen species.
As this mitochondrial demise continues, the cancer cell also reduces the expression of anti-oxidant …
If those tests and human trials were then successful, the scientists hope to create cancer treatments that are as effective as current ones, but without the harmful side effects. Professor Lambert added: ‘The problem with a lot of chemotherapy drugs – especially early chemotherapy drugs – is that they really just target rapidly dividing cells, so cancer divides rapidly, but so do cells in your hair follicles and cells in your intestines, so you have a lot of side effects.
‘But you don't see these sorts of side effects with green tea consumption.'
The study, supported by the American Institute for Cancer Research, was published in the online issue of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
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