Enzyme Inhibition

Study Shows How Vitamin E Can Help Prevent Cancer

Ching Shih ChenResearchers at the OSUCCC – James have identified an elusive anticancer property of vitamin E that has long been presumed to exist but difficult to find.

Many animal studies have suggested that vitamin E could prevent cancer, but human clinical trials following up on those findings have not shown the same benefit.

In this study, researchers showed in prostate cancer cells that one form of vitamin E inhibits the activation of an enzyme that is essential for cancer cell survival. Loss of the enzyme, Akt, led to tumor cell death. The vitamin had no negative effect on normal cells.

“This is the first demonstration of a unique mechanism of how vitamin E can have some benefit in terms of cancer prevention and treatment,” says lead author Ching-Shih Chen, PhD, professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at Ohio State, and an investigator in the Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program at the OSUCCC – James.

But Chen cautions that taking a typical vitamin E supplement won’t offer this benefit for at least two reasons: The most affordable supplements are synthetic and based predominantly on a form of the vitamin that did not fight cancer as effectively in this study; and the human body can’t absorb the high doses that appear to be required to achieve the anticancer effect.

“Our goal,” Chen says, “is to develop a safe pill at the right dose that people could take every day for cancer prevention. It takes time to optimize the formulation and the dose.” He has filed an invention disclosure with the University, and Ohio State has filed a patent application for the agent.

Vitamin E occurs in numerous forms based on chemical structure; the most commonly known form belongs to a variety called tocopherols. Of the tocopherols tested in this study, the gamma form had the most anticancer potency.

Published in the journal Science Signaling.

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