Could today’s rice farmers be tomorrow’s producers of effective cancer treatment products?

Nutritionists and medical researchers have been suggesting for years that natural foods may hold the key to disease prevention, and researchers from the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at the Colorado State University are now suggesting that rice bran is not only a cancer preventive but may well serve as a treatment for certain types of cancer, a development that may well give rice producers new direction for their crop in the years ahead.

A recent report in ScienceDaily indicates the latest research on rice bran offers encouraging news of the preventive qualities of the food product, especially in preventing the recurrence of colon cancer in test animals.

In the journal Advances in Nutrition, Dr. Elizabeth P. Ryan, a Colorado State University Cancer Center researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, says the latest research indicates rice bran may prevent cancer cell development and may even aid in destroying cancer-infected cells.

"There's a delicate balance of bioactive components in rice bran that together show anti-cancer activity including the ability to inhibit cell proliferation, alter cell cycle progression and initiate the programmed cell death known as apoptosis in malignant cells," Ryan reports in the Journal.

Ryan’s research is helping to show that these bioactive components act not only within cancer cells but around the cells, creating conditions that help them perform as healthy cells. But in order to be effective, Ryan says it is important that potential human subjects consistently receive the prescribed daily intake to achieve “chemo-protective effects.”

According to the published ScienceDaily report, these effects include creating a “microenvironmental activity” in the cancer-affected tissue that helps fight chronic inflammation which helps to promote cancer development.

Assisting Ryan in the research are Dr. Tiffany Weir and Dr. Rajesh Agarwal. Collectively the research team hopes to evaluate how rice bran may help to promote anti-cancer immune response. But rice variety selection will no doubt play a role in their work and the effectiveness of rice bran as a cancer preventer.

"There are well over 100,000 varieties of rice in the world, many with their own unique mix of bioactive components, so one major challenge is to discover the optimal composition for chemoprevention. Another challenge is ensuring that people consistently receive the required daily intake amount or ‘dose’ needed to demonstrate these chemo-protective effects. That said, rice is an accessible, low-cost food in most places of the world, and so work with rice bran as a dietary chemopreventive agent has the potential to impact a significant portion of the world's population," Ryan says.

Already the researchers have taken the theory from the table to the laboratory by developing a prescription that is being used in testing chemopreventive effectiveness in colon cancer survivors.