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Soy Component May Fight Colon Cancer

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The ongoing debate over soy benefits verses its possible health detriment continues with new discoveries. Does soy help prevent or heal certain types of cancer or promote it? A new study conducted by Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland scientists may help answer this question for at least one type of cancer.

The scientists identified a new class of therapeutic agents found naturally in soy that can prevent— and possibly treat— colon cancer, the third most deadly form of cancer.

Sphingadienes (SDs) are natural fat molecules found in soy that research shows may be the key to fighting colon cancer.

Soy has long been touted as protective against colon cancer, but the study’s lead researcher Dr. Julie Saba, MD, PhD, senior scientist and director of the Cancer Center at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) and her team made the groundbreaking discovery that SDs naturally found in soy may underlie the benefits of soy products. The study will be featured in the December 15, 2009 issue of Cancer Research.

Dr. Saba and her team first identified SDs in the fruit fly, an organism that is sometimes used to study the genetics of human diseases. Further investigation showed that elevated SDs actually induced the death of mutant cells in the fly, revealing SDs to be toxic to cells.

This lead Dr. Saba and her team to connect the dots. Preventative colon cancer strategies often focus on cell death as a normal body process to remove unhealthy or mutant cells, like cancer cells. The fact that soy is a rich source of SDs, made it an excellent choice for study.

“It's very exciting,” said Dr. Saba. “First, we are encouraged to find a natural molecule that could be consumed through soy products as a strategy to help prevent colon cancer. Second, this information is important because we can build on our understanding of the structure and metabolism of SDs in terms of developing new drugs to treat people who already have colon cancer.

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