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UIC News Tips
University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456, www.uic.edu/depts/paff

March 28, 2001 Contact: Jody Oesterreicher, (312) 996-8277, joest@uic.edu


University of Illinois at Chicago researchers will explore the potential of lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, to prevent prostate cancer with a $300,000 grant from the National Foundation for Cancer Research. The grant was awarded to Phyllis Bowen, UIC professor of human nutrition and dietetics.

"We are pleased to fund research that may lead to advances in finding a treatment and a cure for prostate cancer," said Franklin Salisbury Jr., president of the foundation. "It is our hope that with funding from the foundation, Professor Bowen will be able to conduct the necessary research that could lead to breakthroughs in the field of cancer research."

Bowen and her research team have been working closely with Richard Van Breemen, UIC professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy to determine the mechanism by which lycopene reduces prostate cancer risk.

Van Breemen's team has recruited men with prostate cancer or increased levels of prostate-specific antigen to take placebo or lycopene pills daily for three weeks prior to surgery or prostate biopsy. The purpose is to determine the uptake of lycopene into the prostate and whether lycopene prevents DNA damage to prostate cells and circulating white blood cells. Lycopene is the pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their red color.

Bowen's team recently completed a similar study, using men with prostate cancer scheduled to have their prostates removed. The researchers had the men eat tomato sauce baked into pasta dishes daily for three weeks prior to surgery.

Bowen's research has shown that lycopene is readily absorbed into the prostates of men with prostate cancer and is associated with decreases in prostate-specific antigen and DNA damage to cells in prostate tissue. Van Breemen's team has shown that prostate cell lines respond to lycopene by cell death or a decrease in DNA damage.

Foundation director Dr. Helmut Sies of the Heinrich-Heine-Universitat in Dusseldorf, Germany, reported on the effects of lycopenes on cancer patients in the mid-1990s, and researchers now know that tomato-product consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Researchers have identified lycopene as the most likely bioactive ingredient since it is a powerful free radical and single oxygen quencher.

Bowen and her colleagues will further evaluate prostate tissues from both studies to locate DNA damage changes and determine whether these changes relate to programmed cell death. If lycopene and tomato sauce reduce DNA damage and affect programmed cell death, then lycopene and tomato sauce may have potential for both cancer prevention and therapy, Bowen explained.

The researchers also are studying whether DNA damage lessened by tomato-sauce consumption can reduce cellular hyperplasia, an abnormal proliferation of cells that often is a precursor to cancer.

"This study may set the stage for a dietary modification approach to the prevention of prostate cancer," said Webster Cavanee of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and a foundation peer review committee member. "It should provide information about which cell type in the prostate is being protected by lycopene and what the mechanism of protection is. Such clues are essential first steps in developing a novel approach to prostate cancer prevention."

Since 1973, the National Foundation for Cancer Research has provided more than $170 million to fund discovery-oriented research that has played a key role in many current breakthroughs in the prevention, diagnosis and new treatments of all types of cancer.

- UIC -

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