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A Cancer-Preventing Compound with "Awesome" Potential

By Mary Beth Regan

A new compound has shown surprising power in preventing liver tumors in lab animals, according to a study by Bloomberg School researchers, who believe the chemical also holds great promise for preventing cancer in humans.

Thomas W. Kensler, PhD, an Environmental Health Sciences professor, and Melinda S. Yates, a second-year Pharmacology PhD student at the School of Medicine, reported the findings in the February 15 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

The synthetic compound, called CDDO-Im, was developed by Dartmouth Medical School and tested at the Bloomberg School for its cancer-preventive properties. Derived from oleanolic acid found in plants such as rosemary and olive leaf, it belongs to a class of cancer-fighting chemicals called triterpenoids, long used in traditional Asian medicine for their anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.

Kensler, Yates and colleagues tested the effectiveness of the compound by giving it to rats that also were fed natural toxins known to cause liver tumors.

"We've used this experimental model before to test other types of chemopreventive agents," says Kensler. "But this new compound is 100 times better. And that's what is so awesome. That's what is keeping us awake at night."

Because of its potency, the compound appears to be very effective at extremely low doses. For that reason, researchers are hopeful that it will have similar tumor-preventing properties in people. Kensler says he is especially optimistic about the compound's impact on cancers with an inflammatory component, such as liver, colon, prostate or gastric cancers. It could also play a role in preventing diseases such as neurodegeneration, asthma and emphysema.

Kensler is hopeful that the study results will lead to additional research on triterpenoids. "We thought this was going to be a pretty spectacular compound, but this has exceeded all of our expectations," he says. "It suggests that we may be on the right track in terms of chemoprevention. It may open the door for a new class of compounds that could prevent a number of diseases."