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Cancer Health Center

Oil May Fight a Cancer-Causing Gene

Researchers Examine Seed Oil for Treating Breast Cancer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 1, 2005 -- Could oil from tiny seeds help bring a big, bad cancer gene to its knees?

Maybe, but it's going to take a lot more work to find out, according to a new study in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Keep that in mind before you delve into the details of the study, which involved cancer cells, not people or animals.

The scientists included Javier Menendez, PhD, and Ruth Lupu, PhD.

Menendez is a research assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Lupu is a professor of medicine at Northwestern University and a researcher at Northwestern's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In One Corner: A Cancer Gene

The study focuses on the Her-2/neu cancer gene. It's involved in some (but not all) cancers, including more than a fifth of breast cancers.

The gene has been linked to particularly aggressive breast tumors, and cancer patients with this gene often have a poor prognosis, Lupu says in a news release.

The gene orders the overproduction of a protein called the Her-2/neu protein. Some cancer cells grow when exposed to Her-2/neu protein.

In the Other Corner: A Seed Oil

The researchers tested gamma-linolenic acid against cancer cells with the Her-2/neu gene.

Gamma-linolenic acid, or "GLA," is found in oil from the seeds of evening primrose, borage, and black currant. Some studies have suggested that GLA might target cancer cells without affecting healthy cells, write the scientists.

Round One: GLA vs. the Gene

The researchers studied human breast cancer cells with the Her-2/neu gene. They exposed some of those cells to GLA for 48 hours. For comparison, they left other cancer cells alone.

Afterward, they checked the surfaces of the cells for the Her-2/neu protein.

The GLA-exposed cancer cells showed "substantially" less of that protein than the cancer cells that hadn't been exposed to GLA, the researchers write.

Round Two: The Rematch

Next, the researchers exposed more breast cancer cells to various doses of GLA for 48 hours. Then, they poked around in part of those cells' genetic material.

The higher the GLA dose, the higher the odds that those cells didn't copy the Her-2/neu gene. GLA may have been a stumbling block in the copying of that cancer gene.

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