Identifying cancer-fighting compounds

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The name John M Pezzuto, PhD, may not sound familiar, but almost everyone has read about his research. Many are familiar with his most notable discovery: the identification of resveratrol, a compound produced naturally in red grapes and linked with health benefits. Resveratrol is now the subject of nearly 2,000 papers.

At AICR’s research conference, Dr. Pezzuto, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, explained the lengthy and challenging process of identifying the compounds in fruits and vegetables.

A carrot alone has 892 compounds.

After identifying what compounds may have health benefits, animal studies then reveal how it may influence cancer development. It’s not that easy to find an active compound, he noted, and even if it doesn’t show cancer-fighting effects in animal studies, they try to learn something from the negatives.

There is a long list of compounds Dr. Pezzuto and his colleagues have identified, many with tough-pronouncing names. There’s zapotin, extracted from an edible fruit; isoliquiritigenin, isolated from licorice; and brassinin, from the cabbage family.

What we really should be thinking about are all the components of the diet, then the metabolites, the pathways, and how it all works together to effect human health.