Scientists at the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, have 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 lipid molecules found in soy that research shows may be the key to fighting colon cancer.
The study, led by Dr. Julie Saba, director of the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital Oakland, will be published in the December 15, 2009 issue of Cancer Research. Soy has long been touted as protective against colon cancer, but Dr. Saba’s team made the groundbreaking discovery that SDs naturally found in soy may underlie the benefits of soy products. It is important for science to find the mechanism of action behind a natural product claim on something like this -- it lends much more credibility to the concept.
“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. Uncovering how SDs exert their effects also helps us to find the most likely combinations of drugs that may work synergistically to eliminate cancer cells and mutant cells that could give rise to cancer.”
Future research is needed to identify the best way to deliver SDs and to confirm the overall toxicity when the compounds are used for extended time periods and in combination with other agents. Dr. Saba, who has already received two grants to continue her research, also hopes to determine if SDs are effective in protection against other cancers. While Dr. Saba acknowledges that future research is needed to determine if there are other components of soy that are beneficial in fighting colon cancer, she has no concerns suggesting more soy in the diet.
“I would be comfortable recommending soy products as a change in the diet that could protect against cancer. The more that soy is studied, the more of these protective agents are found, so it’s a very healthy diet choice," said this author.