From: Rutgers University
Published February 16, 2015 08:52 AM

Component in olive oil kills cancer cells

A Rutgers nutritional scientist and two cancer biologists at New York City’s Hunter College have found that an ingredient in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

The ingredient is oleocanthal, a compound that ruptures a part of the cancerous cell, releasing enzymes that cause cell death.

Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and David Foster and Onica LeGendre of Hunter College, report that oleocanthal kills cancerous cells in the laboratory by rupturing vesicles that store the cell’s waste. LeGendre, the first author, Foster, the senior author, and Breslin have published their findings in Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

According to the World Health Organization’s World Cancer Report 2014, there were more than 14 million new cases of cancer in 2012 and more than 8 million deaths.

Scientists knew that oleocanthal killed some cancer cells, but no one really understood how this occurred. Breslin believed that oleocanthal might be targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers a programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, and worked with Foster and Legendre to test his hypothesis after meeting David Foster at a seminar he gave at Rutgers.

“We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die,” Breslin said.  

After applying oleocanthal to the cancer cells, Foster and LeGendre discovered that the cancer cells were dying very quickly – within 30 minutes to an hour. Since programmed cell death takes between 16 and 24 hours, the scientists realized that something else had to be causing the cancer cells to break down and die.

Olive oil image via Shutterstock.

Read more at Rutgers University.

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