Grape seed extract kills head/neck cancer cells

Grape seed extract can kill head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells in both cell lines and mouse models while leaving healthy cells unharmed, according to a study in Carcinogenesis (January 19, 2012).

"It's a rather dramatic effect," said Rajesh Agarwal, PhD, an investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and a professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, in a press release.

It depends in large part on a healthy cell's ability to wait out damage, he added.

"Cancer cells are fast-growing cells," Agarwal said. "Not only that, but they are necessarily fast growing. When conditions exist in which they can't grow, they die."

Grape seed extract creates conditions that are unfavorable to growth, the study authors noted. Specifically, they found that it both damages cancer cells' DNA (via increased reactive oxygen species) and stops the pathways that allow repair (as seen by decreased levels of the DNA repair molecules BRCA1 and RAD51 and DNA repair foci).

"Yet we saw absolutely no toxicity to the mice, themselves," Agarwal said. "I think the whole point is that cancer cells have a lot of defective pathways and they are very vulnerable if you target those pathways. The same is not true of healthy cells."

The Agarwal Lab hopes to move in the direction of clinical trials of grape seed extract, potentially as an addition to second-line therapies that target head and neck squamous cell carcinoma after a first treatment has failed.

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