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Red Wonder: More on the wine-grape chemical that continues to amaze.

RESVERATROL, the oft-celebrated chemical compound found in grape skins and red wine, keeps racking up the health-related credits. Its latest star turn? The potential to boost the prostate cancer fighting effectiveness of radiation therapy. Early stage research by Michael Nicholl, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the MU School of Medicine, suggests that resveratrol boosts the activity of two critical proteins in prostate-cancer cells, activity that makes those cancer cells more vulnerable to therapeutic interventions.

“Other studies have noted that resveratrol made tumor cells more susceptible to chemotherapy, and we wanted to see if it had the same effect for radiation therapy,” says Nicholl. “We found that, when exposed to the compound, the tumor cells were more susceptible to radiation treatment, but that the effect was greater than just treating with both compounds separately.”

Each year, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 240,000 Americans are diagnosed with prostate cancer. While any male can contract the illness, more than two-thirds of cases occur in men aged 65 and older.

Most of these patients will not die from the disease. But a significant number will. The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control’s U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group indicate that some 28,500 men in the United States succumbed to prostate cancer each year, making it the nation’s second most lethal form of cancer. Only lung cancer killed more.

Nicholl’s findings, published in the July/August 2012 issue of the Journal of Andrology and Cancer Science, offer hope to those with even the most destructive tumors, the dangerous small cell carcinomas found in about 10 percent of prostate-cancer patients.

Prostate tumor cells contain very low levels of two proteins, perforin and granzyme B, which, under the right circumstances, can work together to kill diseased cells. For this to happen, however, both proteins must be highly “expressed,” that is, more actively working to modify the chemical structure of the tumor’s DNA.

When Nicholl inserted resveratrol into the prostate tumor cells, the activity of the two proteins increased. When radiation was added to the mix, Nicholl found that up to 97 percent of the tumor cells died.

“It is critical that both proteins, perforin and granzyme B, are present in order to kill the tumor cells, and we found that the resveratrol helped to increase their activity in prostate tumor cells,” Nicholl says. “Following the resveratrol-radiation treatment, we realized that we were able to kill many more tumor cells when compared with treating the tumor with radiation alone. It’s important to note that this killed all types of prostate tumor cells, including aggressive tumor cells.”

Nicholl cautions that his findings should not be read as an invitation to gorge oneself on cabernet and supplements. The dosage needed to have an effect on tumor cells, he says, is so great that self-medicating will likely have no effect. Except perhaps a hangover.

“We don’t need a large dose at the site of the tumor, but the body processes this compound so efficiently that a person needs to ingest a lot of resveratrol to make sure enough of it ends up at the tumor site. Because of that challenge, we have to look at different delivery methods for this compound to be effective,” says Nicholl.

Red wine splashing in a stemmed glass.

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