Antioxidants Could Provide All-Purpose Radiation Protection
November 4, 2007
Findings from the AACR Centennial Conference on Translational Cancer Medicine: From Technology to Treatment, Singapore, November 4-8, 2007
SINGAPORE -- Two common dietary molecules found in legumes and bran could protect DNA from the harmful effects of radiation, researchers from the University of Maryland report. Inositol and inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) protected both human skin cells and a skin cancer-prone mouse from exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, the damaging radiation found in sunlight, the team reported today at the American Association for Cancer Research Centennial Conference on Translational Cancer Medicine.
According to the researchers, inositol and IP6 could decrease the severity of side effects from radiation therapy, saving healthy cells while simultaneously increasing the potency of the treatment against cancer cells. Both molecules are potent antioxidants, the Maryland researchers say, capable of preventing reactive molecules from injuring DNA and turning cells cancerous.
"Both of these potent antioxidants have been shown to have broad-spectrum anti-tumor capabilities, and now our studies confirm the degree to which these molecules protect against the DNA-damaging effects of ionizing radiation," said Abulkalam M. Shamsuddin, M.D., professor of pathology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Radiation damage is radiation damage, regardless of the source, so there could also be a protective role for IP6 in any form of radiation exposure, whether it is from a therapeutic dose or from solar, cosmic or nuclear sources."
While both inositol and IP6 are related to B vitamins, they are not considered essential dietary nutrients. In the 1980s, however, researchers discovered that these molecules, abundant within the hulls of seeds and grains, had definitive protective effects against colorectal cancer.
Inspired by reports of a clinical trial begun in 2001 at Clinical Hospital in Split, Croatia, which suggested IP6 enhanced the effectiveness of radiotherapy while lessening the side effects, Shamsuddin and his colleagues sought to investigate the extent of the protective properties of these molecules. With funding from IP-6 Research, Inc., a company formed by Shamsuddin, the researchers began a study to determine how human skin cells responded to UVB radiation when dosed with IP6.
Normally, cells permanently damaged by radiation undergo a genetically programmed process of cell suicide, called apoptosis. Shamsuddin reports that UVB-irradiated human keratinocytes, when treated with IP6, were more likely to survive. Untreated skin cells were more likely to undergo apoptosis, indicating that the DNA in those cells was damaged irreparably and fatally. According to Shamsuddin, the treated cells take an extended pause at the point in the cellular life cycle where innate mechanisms repair DNA before the cell divides.
"IP6 certainly has some interactivity with DNA, but how exactly it works to repair DNA is still something of a mystery. There are reports that IP6 binds with DNA repair molecule Ku to bring about the repair process," Shamsuddin said. "More importantly, we still don't know how IP6 can appear to help healthy cells live while also enhancing the ability of radiation to kill cancer cells."
Shamsuddin and his team found that when mice engineered to be prone to skin cancer were given drinking water containing a two-percent solution of IP6, they were much less likely to develop tumors. Twenty-three percent of treated mice developed tumors, compared to 51 percent of untreated, or control mice, which developed tumors. Moreover, the mice in the treated group that did develop cancer had only half as many tumors as the control mice.
Similarly, Shamsuddin saw that mice treated with a topical cream containing four percent IP6 plus one percent inositol were also less likely to develop tumors. When they administered the cream an hour before UVB irradiation akin to sun exposure, 62 percent of the treated mice developed tumors compared to 76 percent of the control mice. According to Shamsuddin, their findings indicate that either topical or ingested IP6 might confer protection against ionizing radiation.
Ionizing radiation occurs in the environment in many forms, originating from both natural and human-contrived sources. In humans, exposure to ionizing radiation occurs primarily through therapeutic techniques (such as anticancer radiotherapy), and sunbathing. Astronauts, pilots and passengers of high-altitude aircraft also are inordinately exposed to solar radiation. Such radiation exposures have a cumulative effect, increasing the chances of developing cancer over time, researchers say. "It is possible that people regularly exposed to ionizing radiation, such as airline pilots, frequent fliers or people who handle radioactive materials, might take IP6 prophylactically to prevent possible long term effects of exposure," Shamsuddin said.
According to Shamsuddin, IP6 could also offer protection against accidents or purposeful incidents involving nuclear material. "It could also be advisable to use IP6 plus inositol as a cautionary treatment following a nuclear disaster or dirty bomb," Shamsuddin said.
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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes nearly 26,000 basic, translational, and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 70 other countries. AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment, and patient care. AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Its most recent publication, CR, is a magazine for cancer survivors, patient advocates, their families, physicians, and scientists. It provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship, and advocacy.
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*STAR, is Singapore's lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based Singapore. A*STAR actively nurtures public sector research and development in Biomedical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering, with a particular focus on fields essential to Singapore's manufacturing industry and new growth industries. It oversees 14 research institutes and supports extramural research with the universities, hospital research centres and other local and international partners. At the heart of this knowledge intensive work is human capital. Top local and international scientific talent drive knowledge creation at A*STAR research institutes. The Agency also sends scholars for undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral training in the best universities, a reflection of the high priority A*STAR places on nurturing the next generation of scientific talent.
The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). It is a national initiative with a global vision that seeks to use genomic sciences to improve public health and public prosperity. Established in 2001 as a centre for genomic discovery, the GIS will pursue the integration of technology, genetics and biology towards the goal of individualized medicine. The key research areas at the GIS include Systems Biology, Stem Cell & Developmental Biology, Cancer Biology & Pharmacology, Human Genetics, Infectious Diseases, Genomic Technologies, and Computational & Mathematical Biology. The genomics infrastructure at the GIS is utilized to train new scientific talent, to function as a bridge for academic and industrial research, and to explore scientific questions of high impact.
Genome Institute of Singapore
Winnie Serah Lim
American Association for Cancer Research
Staci Vernick Goldberg