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Blueberries Give Cancer Therapy Extra Punch

The fruit may disrupt cancer cells' ability to reproduce and make them suicidal.

By
Valerie Brown, Contributor
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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Radiation is a common treatment for many cancers, but it can damage non-cancerous tissues. Thus, researchers and clinicians are always looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of the radiation without causing additional harm. In recent years, much attention has focused on radiosensitizers, or substances that make radiation more effective.

Now, an international research team from China and the United States has found indications for the first time that blueberry extract in conjunction with radiotherapy reduces proliferation and increases programmed cell death in cancer cells. The study adds to existing evidence that blueberry extract affects cancer at more than one stage and enhances the effect of chemotherapy. The authors had also previously shown that resveratrol, a compound in grapes that is also present in blueberries, acts as a radiosensitizer in prostate cancer treatment.

The study, published in September 2017 in Pathology & Oncology Research, exposed immortalized cervical cancer cells first to blueberry extract for 24 hours and then to radiation. Control batches of cells were treated with either blueberry extract only or radiation only. 

The researchers found that compared with cells receiving only one treatment, the cancer cells that received both radiation and blueberry extract had fewer messenger RNA molecules involved in enhancing cell proliferation, and more messenger RNA molecules involved in cell suicide. Microscopic examination also showed fewer cancer cells surviving in the population treated with both radiation and blueberry extract.

The authors note that because the current study was an in vitro experiment, further research in living animals is necessary to confirm blueberry’s effectiveness. But, they add, if blueberry extract proves effective, it may someday serve as a substitute for the commonly used radiosensitizer known as cisplatin, which becomes less effective with repeated treatments and has undesirable side effects.