Scientists have discovered a new and potent anti-cancer compound in everyday food. The collaborative study led by UCL (University College London) shows that the compound - inositol pentakisphosphate - found in beans, nuts and cereals inhibits a key enzyme (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) involved in tumour growth.
The findings, published in the latest issue of Cancer Research, suggest that a diet enriched in such foods could help prevent cancer, while the inhibitor offers a new tool for anti-cancer therapy.
Phosphoinositide 3-kinase is a key player in the development and progression of human tumours. Scientists have been exploring phosphoinositide 3-kinase as a target for cancer treatment but inhibitors have been difficult to develop because of problems with the chemical stability and toxicity of the inhibiting substances. Now, a team of scientists led by Dr Marco Falasca of the UCL Sackler Institute have discovered that a natural compound, inositol pentakisphosphate, inhibits the activity of the enzyme, suggesting it could be used to develop new treatments for cancer.
In the study, the compound was tested in mouse models and on cancer cells. Not only was it found to inhibit the growth of tumours in mice, but the phosphate also enhanced the effect of cytotoxic drugs in ovarian and lung cancer cells. The findings suggest that inositol pentakisphosphate could be used to sensitize cancer cells to the action of commonly used anti-cancer drugs.
Inositol pentakisphosphate is a non-toxic, water-soluble compound found in most legumes (such as lentils, peas and beans) and in wheat bran and nuts. These properties make the compound a promising therapeutic agent since conventional chemotherapy agents can be toxic to different degrees, whereas in the study, the inositol phosphate agent was found to be non-toxic even at higher concentrations.
Dr Marco Falasca of the UCL Sackler Institute says: "Our study suggests the importance of a diet enriched in food such as beans, nuts and cereals which could help prevent cancer. Our work will now focus on establishing whether the phosphate inhibitor can be developed into an anti-cancer agent for human therapy. We believe that inositol pentakisphosphate is a promising anti-cancer tool and we hope to bring it to clinical testing soon."