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.

New Cancer Center provides new approach to research

In addition to leading research into rice bran as a cancer preventive and treatment, the CSU Cancer Center is also providing cutting edge research in other areas of cancer prevention and treatment.

According to the University’s Website, this year more than 500,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer—1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease, accounting for nearly one of every four deaths.

Now, in an unprecedented partnership with Japan, CSU will begin research into a new and promising treatment for cancer—carbon ion therapy, which is currently not available in the United States.

"This partnership gives Colorado State University ready access to study a unique cancer therapy that has shown great promise in Japanese clinical trials. This therapy is not being studied anywhere else in the United States," said Dr. Jac Nickoloff, Head of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. "We want to understand the genetic regulation of tumor responses to carbon ion therapy, including DNA repair pathways and DNA damage-signaling pathways, and how cancer and normal cells respond to this novel therapy."

The relative survival rate for all cancers diagnosed between 1996 and 2004 was 66 percent, up from 50 percent in 1975-1977. The improvement reflects the diagnosis of certain cancers at an earlier stage and improvements in treatment. But cancer survival statistics vary greatly and there are still cancers with extremely low rates of cure, including pancreatic and brain cancers. Carbon ion therapy may offer new hope against these devastating diseases.

For information on more CSU research projects (including the effects of radioactive materials on beef cattle), visit their Web site here.