Rutgers University researchers have found a compound in black tea that may target and kill colorectal cancer cells without harming surrounding healthy tissue, according to Kuang Yu Chen, professor of chemistry and head of the research group at the University's Centre for Advanced Food Technology (CAFT).
The team's results were presented last month at the 222nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, reports the Daily Targum .
The ongoing research of black tea is part of a larger program at Rutgers University known as the Pioneer Nutraceuticals Research Program, and is funded by the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, said Geetha Ghai, principal investigator and assistant director of CAFT.
The Pioneer program seeks to determine the benefits of selected food products for disease prevention.
Performed in the laboratory of Chi-Tang Ho, a University professor of food science, the research began by a massive screening of black tea in order to find chemicals in tea showing deferential gross inhibitory factors, Chen said. "These are chemicals that will cure cancer but do little or no damage to normal cells," he explained.
The researchers found that when the black tea compound polyphenol was added to a culture containing matched cancerous and normal colon cells, all of the cancer cells were killed while the normal cells were unaffected, Chen said. The polyphenol is believed to target the COX-2 gene, which is typically correlated with the incidence of colon cancer.
"The [polyphenol] compound apparently caused the cancer cells to commit suicide," Chen said in a prepared statement. "Their DNA was chopped into pieces and the cells died. But the compound had little or no effect on normal cells."
And the polyphenol specifically targets cancer cells, which is different from many common methods of treating cancer today, Chen said.
"When [we] use chemotherapeutic agents, it's a blunt attack, like using a hammer to kill a fly," Chen said. "You want a precise attack on a target cell."
When green tea is fermented into black tea, these anti-colorectal cancer properties are produced, Ghai said.
Now that researchers have discovered polyphenol's anti-cancerous properties, they continue to look for the mechanism of the cancer-cell "suicide," Chen said. "We want to identify the mechanism [of polyphenol's effectiveness] and continue the screening process," he said.
The polyphenol compound is naturally derived, although it goes through slight modifications during the process of making black tea, he said, adding, "If we know the mechanism, we can provide better modifications."
The findings may be beneficial for other forms of cancer as well, if the research is performed using cancer cells from other parts of the body, Chen said. "We must commit more time and money for further research," he said.
The Centre for Advanced Food Technology is now performing further experiments on polyphenol, Chen said. "Overall the [current] findings are very promising," Ghai said.