Blueberries may act as a radiosensitizer that could reduce damage to healthy cells caused by traditional cancer treatments.
Traditional cancer therapies—such as radiation and chemotherapy—are effective at killing malignant cells, but also take a significant toll on healthy cells and can result in serious adverse events.
Finding novel ways to prevent healthy cell damage related to cancer therapy has become a top priority in oncology research. A recent study published by Pathology & Oncology Research suggests that combining radiation therapy with blueberry extract may reduce damage to healthy cells and boost treatment efficacy.
"Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays and other particles such as gamma rays to destroy cancer cells," said lead author Yujiang Fang, MD, PhD. "For some cancers, such as late-stage cervical cancer, radiation is a good treatment option. However, collateral damage to healthy cells always occurs. Based on previous research, we studied blueberry extract to verify it could be used as a radiosensitizer."
The authors wrote that radiosensitizers are chemicals that make cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation.
Previously, the authors discovered that resveratrol derived from red grapes could be harnessed as a radiosensitizer. Blueberries also contain the compound, which may partially explain its effects.
"In addition to resveratrol, blueberries also contain flavonoids," Dr Fang said. "Flavonoids are chemicals that may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties."
The researchers explored how different cervical cancer treatments would affect human cervical cancer cell lines. The study was grouped based on treatment, including a control cohort that received radiation monotherapy, a cohort that only received the blueberry extract, and a cohort that received both.
"Our team used 3 different measures to confirm results of the study," Dr Fang said. "Radiation decreased cancer cells by approximately 20%. Interestingly, the cell group that received only blueberry extract had a 25% decrease in cancer. However, the biggest decline in cancer cells occurred in the radiation and extract group, with a decrease of about 70%."
The authors said that the underlying mechanisms that cause the blueberry extract to be a radiosensitizer are also able to curb abnormal cell growth, according to the study.
"Cancer cells avoid death by remodeling themselves," Dr Fang said. "Along with reducing cell proliferation, the extract also 'tricks' cancer cells into dying. So it inhibits the birth and promotes the death of cancer cells."
The investigators said they plan to conduct animal studies to confirm that this approach works in an in vivo model.
These results suggest that using blueberries may be an effective and less costly way to increase the efficacy of ovarian cancer treatment, while potentially reducing adverse events, according to the authors.
"Blueberries are very common and found all over the world," Dr Fang concluded. "They are readily accessible and inexpensive. As a natural treatment option for boosting the effectiveness of existing therapies, I feel they would be enthusiastically accepted."