Emily Ho, a principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., say sulforaphane -- found at relatively high levels in broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables -- is an inhibitor of histone deacetylase, or HDAC enzymes. Inhibition of HDAC is being targeted from both a pharmaceutical and dietary approach, scientists say.
Some of the mechanisms that help prevent inappropriate cell growth -- the hallmark of cancer -- are circumvented in cancer cells and HDAC inhibitors can help "turn on" these silenced genes and restore normal cellular function, Ho says in a statement.
"It's important to demonstrate that sulforaphane is safe if we propose to use it in cancer prevention or therapies," Ho says. "This does appear to be a phytochemical that can selectively kill cancer cells, and that's always what you look for in cancer therapies."
Clinical prevention trials are under way to test its use, particularly in prostate and breast cancer, Ho says.
The findings are published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.