Medical researchers at The Ohio State University are working to finish a clinical study of how natural compounds in strawberries may help prevent oral cancer.
The team has applied a strawberry-based confection to the high-risk oral cavity of smokers, believing that anticancer compounds in the berries will cause genes altered by tobacco smoke to once again resemble the normal genes of never-smokers, thus preventing cancer development.
“Complex mixtures of bioactive compounds in various types of berries have been shown to possess cancer-preventing properties in several different animal models of cancer,” says principal investigator (PI) Christopher Weghorst, PhD, a member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
“With this in mind,” Weghorst adds, “we’re applying a food-based approach that emphasizes the potential for complex mixtures of natural preventive agents in strawberries to modulate the molecular biomarkers of cancer risk in smokers.”
The two-year study, which was supported by a $100,000 “idea grant” from Pelotonia – the annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises millions of dollars for cancer research at Ohio State – enrolled 25 healthy individuals, including 13 who are smokers and 12 who are not.
The participants received either a strawberry-based or a placebo confection for seven days. Then, after 14 days of no treatment, the groups were reversed to receive either the strawberry-based or the placebo confection. Blood, urine and mouth-scrape samples were collected before and after each treatment for analysis.
Weghorst says the team – which includes co-PIs Steven Clinton, MD, PhD; Yael Vodovotz, PhD; and Steven Schwartz, PhD – is analyzing the activity of 41 cigarette smoke-associated genes in the oral cavities of the study participants. Because these genes have been shown in previous studies to be altered in smokers, Weghorst and colleagues want to see how the genes may respond to the strawberry confection.
The team, Weghorst says, has also recently submitted an application for a large National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant to fund a research program that will focus on the potential of black raspberries to reverse the effects of smoking on oral bacterial communities and gene expression in at-risk oral tissues. He notes that Ohio State studies with animal models have found strawberries and black raspberries to be equally effective in inhibiting oral cancer.
“If awarded, the NCI grant will enable us to fill any knowledge gaps we need to address before starting a large-scale national phase III clinical trial for preventing oral carcinogenesis with whole foods,” Weghorst says. “This approach may prove to be an effective, safe and natural method of cancer prevention.”
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