Celery extract shrinks difficult breast cancer tumor in mouse trials

Say what you will about celery. It's crunchy, goes great in chicken salad and is a great source of fiber. But University of Missouri researchers have found a potentially extraordinary benefit. They used apigenin, a substance that can be extracted from the vegetable, to shrink a particularly nasty variety of human breast cancer tumors in mice.

Yes, animal trials alone will not establish that apigenin--a substance also found in parsley and other natural food sources--could be a viable cancer treatment in itself. More animal and human trials are necessary before we reach that point. But if it works in humans, apigenin could prove to be the basis of a solid new cancer drug that doesn't lead to toxic side effects (it didn't in mice.) Or it could be given along with chemo treatments to boost their effectiveness. But the researchers complain that they are struggling to find funding for human clinical testing, because apigenin doesn't yet have a known specific target in the cancer cell itself.

Study co-author Salman Hyder said in a statement that he also sees pharmaceutical companies as resistant to fund human clinical trial research for apigenin because "the industry won't put money into studying something you can grow in your garden." Regardless of the obstacles, the research represents a growing body of work looking at developing cancer drugs from natural substances, including honeybee resin, tarantula venom, poisonous mushrooms and baking soda.

For the apigenin study, scientists used cells from an aggressive human breast cancer dubbed BT-474, which develops in response to hormone replacement therapy. They implanted the cells into a special mouse that was then treated with hormone replacement therapy to spur tumor growth. Apigenin-treated mice who had the hormone therapy saw their tumors shrink to levels of the control group that did not get the hormone treatment. Hormone-treated mice without the apigenin treatment, by contrast, faced rapid cancer tumor growth.

Hyder and his team believe that apigenin induced cell death in the human breast cancer cells. The treatment, they conclude, also stopped the cells from growing and it additionally slowed a gene connected with cancer growth from expressing itself. To read the study itself, check out the journal Hormones and Cancer.

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