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UCL study shows beans beat cancer

15 September 2005

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.”

Notes for Editors:

  • For more information, please contact Jenny Gimpel at the UCL Media Relations Office on +44 (0)207 679 9739, mobile +44 (0)7990 675 947, out-of-hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk
  • ‘Inhibition of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt pathway by inositol pentakisphosphate results in anti-angiogenic and anti-tumour effects' is published in the journal Cancer Research on Thursday 15 September 2005 at http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/

About UCL

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge , the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government's most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is the current Sunday Times University of the Year and the fourth-ranked UK university in the league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University . UCL alumni include Mahatma Gandhi (Laws 1889, Indian political and spiritual leader); Jonathan Dimbleby (Philosophy 1969, writer and television presenter); Junichiro Koizumi(Economics 1969, Prime Minister of Japan); Lord Woolf (Laws 1954 – Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales), Alexander Graham Bell (Phonetics 1860s – inventor of the telephone), and members of the band Coldplay.