Researchers Isolate Component of EVOO That Attacks Breast Cancer Stem Cells

A molecule in extra virgin olive oil targets the metabolism and the epigenesis of breast cancer stem cells, effectively preventing them from generating more tumors.

By Danielle Pacheco
Jun. 19, 2018 11:03 UTC

Researchers in Girona have found a mol­e­cule in EVOO that can specif­i­cally inhibit breast can­cer stem cells in cell and tumor cul­tures.

The dis­cov­ery opens up promis­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties for directly tar­get­ing can­cer stem cells (CSC), an aggres­sive type of can­cer cell often respon­si­ble for relapse in can­cer patients.

The study was led by Javier Menendez, head of the Metabolism and Cancer group, a joint ini­tia­tive by the Catalan Institute of Oncology’s (ICO) ProCURE pro­gram and the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI).

Five years ago, Menendez and his team started the long task of search­ing for new mol­e­cules with anti-CSC prop­er­ties. Their method was inspired by the tech­niques used by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies when devel­op­ing new onco­log­i­cal drugs, first iso­lat­ing and puri­fy­ing the mol­e­cules before test­ing the effects in tumor stem cell cul­tures.

Investigators screened mol­e­cules to check whether they were capa­ble of affect­ing the func­tion­al­ity of can­cer stem cells, includ­ing their resis­tance to onco­log­i­cal drugs and their abil­ity to gen­er­ate new micro­tu­mors. They found these char­ac­ter­is­tics in decar­boxymethyl oleu­ropein agly­cone (DOA), a phe­nol-con­ju­gated oleo­side that is present in minute quan­ti­ties in cold-pressed EVOO.

Our hypoth­e­sis is that this com­po­nent of olive oil, which rep­re­sents no more than 2 per­cent of its weight but which is made up of more than 200 dif­fer­ent com­po­nents, can be used as a nat­ural gold­mine of infor­ma­tion about new chem­i­cal struc­tures capa­ble of inhibit­ing mol­e­c­u­lar func­tions that are nec­es­sary for CSC,” said Menendez.

Menendez and his team found that the DOA oleo­side simul­ta­ne­ously attacked pro­teins respon­si­ble for metab­o­lism (mTOR) and epi­ge­n­e­sis (DNMT). This dual metabolo-epi­ge­netic mech­a­nism effec­tively sup­presses the func­tional prop­er­ties of tumor stem cells, inhibit­ing their abil­ity to reini­ti­ate tumor for­ma­tion.

After the ini­tial test­ing phase, researchers suc­cess­fully tested the mol­e­cule in lab ani­mals. Menendez con­firmed that expo­sure of the can­cer stem cells to spe­cific oleo­sides dur­ing just a few hours was enough to com­pletely inhibit their capac­ity for ini­ti­at­ing the for­ma­tion of tumors in lab­o­ra­tory ani­mals.” The ground­break­ing study was pub­lished in the respected med­ical jour­nal Carcinogenesis, part of the Oxford University Press Group.

The third phase of the project was car­ried out in part­ner­ship with Mind the Byte, a bioin­for­mat­ics com­pany that spe­cial­izes in drug devel­op­ment using novel meth­ods such as arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. With their help, researchers were able to map out the mech­a­nism of action of the anti-CSC mol­e­cules. The researchers have already reg­is­tered an inter­na­tional patent and are work­ing on cre­at­ing new mol­e­cules that mimic the anti-CSC effects of the oleo­sides.

For their efforts, Menendez and his col­leagues received the Luis Vañó Award for Research Related to the Olive Oil Industry, pre­sented on April 16 in Jaén by the University of Jaén in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the University of California Davis.


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