A Case of the Blues

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A Case of the Blues

Blueberries help in the fight against triple-negative breast cancer

The navy hue and delicious taste of blueberries is enticement enough to gobble a handful.

Now, City of Hope scientists have found another reason to love blueberries. Their lab research showed that the popular fruit may control tumor growth, block cancer's spread and induce cell death in a type of breast cancer that is hard to treat.

Triple-negative breast cancer cells frustrate physicians because they lack three key proteins that most standard, successful breast cancer therapies target. This makes triple-negative breast cancer tough to treat. About 15 percent of breast cancer patients have this type. And, unfortunately, they don't do as well overall as those with breast cancers having one or more of the target proteins.

Slowing Cells

Blueberries may succeed where current drugs struggle, according to Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of City of Hope's Division of Tumor Cell Biology. "We observed that blueberries help fight triple-negative breast cancers by suppressing pathways critical to tumor development and migration," he says.

Chen, former City of Hope researcher Lynn S. Adams, Ph.D., and colleagues applied blueberry extracts to triple-negative breast cancer cells in the lab. They found that the extract slows the development of the cells as well as their ability to move around. Even better, the extract led to apoptosis, or cell death, at more than twice the rate seen in untreated cells.

The team found similar results when it gave blueberry powder to mice with triple-negative breast cancer. Tumors shrank significantly and cancer spread less in mice that ate the powder.

Taking a Deeper Look

The amount of blueberries fed to the mice was the equivalent of eating two cups of blueberries a day, he says, although more study is needed to confirm blueberries' effects in people.

"Our team is hopeful that future research will identify the specific compounds in the fruit responsible for this action, as well as further investigating blueberries' potential to slow down the progression and spread of this difficult form of breast cancer," he says.

Chen and his colleagues are planning a human clinical trial to test blueberries' effect on breast cancer, in addition to research on anticancer properties of other fruits and vegetables.

— H. Chung So

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