Researchers are studying plant chemicals that can be used to target specific molecular targets

AUSTIN, Minn. – (Tuesday, Feb. 21) –   University of Minnesota Hormel Institute researchers believe plant-based food could be used as an effective intervention therapy for cancer prevention, especially for those at high risk of developing the disease.
The findings – a summary of recent discoveries in the field of dietary phytochemicals (how plants safe for human consumption interact with the body) –  are published in this month’s edition of Nature Reviews Cancer.
The Hormel Institute is engaged in research to understand how these foods chemicals behave inside the body and how they may be used to fight cancer.
Study authors Drs. Ki Won Lee, Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong said they eventually aim to develop phytochemical-derived anticancer drugs.  Phytochemicals such as resveratrol (found in grapes) and myricetin (found in green onions) could be good candidates for drug development, Hormel researchers said.
“Although successful for a limited number of cancer types, the efficiency of cancer therapies, especially for later stages remains poor,” said Dong , the executive director of The Hormel Institute.  “We would like to use target therapies for prevention of human cancer. We have identified many protein targets that can be used to develop more effective cancer preventive agents – drugs with no or fewer side effects.”
Three approaches can be used for identifying preventive agents and molecular targets – that may contribute to cancer.  Molecular docking studies identify the most promising structures that bind to a targeted protein, a second approach entails the use of reverse docking studies, such as chemical immobilization and a third approach is shape-based virtual screening of chemical libraries to search for chemicals that are known inhibitors of a given protein.
All three approaches require the computational processes of docking and scoring, using known and hypothetical drug targets on a protein.
While past research has suggested the benefits and targets of phytochemicals, the research has only been based on cell and animal models.  The next phase for phytochemical research to be used for cancer prevention studies would be to research the effects of these chemicals on humans.
“In the future, personalized prevention methods using phytochemicals could have a crucial role in cancer prevention, especially in high-risk populations,” Dong said. We will continue our rigorous research in identifying molecular targets and aim for conducting human studies with phytoehemicals – this would provide the path for an enhanced approach to personalized cancer prevention.”
The Hormel Institute is a world-renowned medical research center in Austin, Minnesota,  specializing in research leading to cancer prevention and control.   The Hormel Institute, established in 1942, is a research unit of the University of Minnesota and a collaborative cancer research partner with Mayo Clinic.