Eating berries to slow cancer

"In order for cancer to spread from one site in the body to another, the cancer cell needs to free itself from its initial location, and reattach and establish itself somewhere else in the body," says Dr. Robert Hurta. "We're finding certain compounds within lowbush blueberries and cranberries can block cancer cells' ability to do just that."

Dr. Hurta is an associate professor of biology at UPEI. His research looks at the effects of compounds from natural products on cancer cells, and the possible cancer-preventive and cancer-protective properties these products may have.

"Cranberries and blueberries have long been touted as having beneficial properties for our health," says Dr. Hurta. "Cranberries, for example, are useful in treatment of urinary tract infections. We're looking at the effects of extracts from these berries on prostate and breast cancer."

Dr. Hurta's research has shown compounds within cranberries have the ability to induce programmed cell death in prostate cancer cells. The cranberry compounds also appear to affect the cancer cell=s aggressiveness.

"A cancer cell's aggressiveness is determined partly by its ability to grow and to also free itself from its primary environment and establish itself at a second site," says Dr. Hurta. "The cancer cells interact with proteins (cellular matrix) in the cellular environment. We find that compounds found in the cranberry can impact the cancer cell's ability to interact with its environment and affect the cancer cell's ability to grow."

Dr. Hurta's lab has determined the nature of some of the compounds found in both cranberry and lowbush blueberries which are responsible for these effects. His lab is continuing to determine the mechanisms responsible for these effects.

"This research certainly supports the concept of including cranberries in a cancer-prevention or cancer-protection diet," says Dr. Hurta.

Support for Dr. Hurta's research was generously provided by funding from the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) through the auspices of the Canadian Cancer Society and by funding from the PEI Health Research Program.