Jan. 21, 2009 -- Substances found in blueberries may inhibit the growth of blood vessel tumors in infants and children, a new study suggests.
Ohio State University researchers say they found that feeding a blueberry extract to mice with blood vessel tumors safely decreased the size of the tumors and improved survival.
The tumors in question are among the most common tumors in infants, according to the report in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. In infants, the tumors can be disfiguring and in some cases threaten the health of a child.
Mice with blood vessel tumors that were fed the blueberry extract lived twice as long as mice that did not get the substance and had tumors 60% smaller than mice that did not receive blueberry extract treatment, the authors say.
Tumors made from the types of cells in question are found in blood vessels and affect 3% of children, the researchers say. The tumors, they add, usually occur within four weeks of birth and often affect premature infants.
"This work provides the first evidence demonstrating that blueberry extract can limit tumor formation by inhibiting the formation of blood vessels and inhibiting certain signaling pathways," Gayle Gordillo, MD, principal investigator of the Ohio State team, says in a news release. "Oral administration of blueberry extract represents a potential therapeutic strategy for treating endothelial cell tumors in children."
Gordillo says the tumors are similar to a large, blood-filled sponge. Current treatments can suppress the immune system, she says, and cause developmental delays.
Removing the tumors surgically is generally avoided because that process could cause patients to bleed to death, she says. Thus, many families opt to accept deformities caused by the tumors.
"Our hope is that if we feed blueberry juice to a child with this type of tumor, we can intervene and shrink the tumor before it becomes a big problem," she says.
"Our next step is a pilot study with humans to see if we can measure response to the treatment using imaging techniques and the monitoring of chemical changes in the urine."
The findings could have implications in other cancers, including breast, melanoma, ovarian, and head and neck, Gordillo says.