Childhood Leukemia, Why Broccoli Is Important

Childhood leukemia, why broccoli is important

Scientists have come up with one more good reason why broccoli and related vegetables are important to health. This time the association concerns a study of a specific ingredient found in broccoli and a certain childhood leukemia called acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

What’s the link between leukemia and broccoli?

The type of leukemia in question in the study, ALL, is the most common type of cancer in children. This leukemia typically progresses rapidly and is characterized by the development of leukemic white blood cells called lymphoblasts, which accumulate and crowd out healthy cells.

Symptoms of ALL include bone pain, fever, bleeding gums, frequent or severe nosebleeds, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, paleness, weakness, and fatigue. Although experts know ALL is caused by mutations in DNA, why the mutations occur is not understood.

Where does broccoli enter this picture? Although about 80 percent of children who develop ALL can be treated successfully, usually with methotrexate, the remaining young people do not respond to therapy. A potential alternative treatment may come from a concentrated form of sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables.

Previous research concerning sulforaphane and its cancer-fighting properties is quite extensive. In one recent study from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, for example, Dr. Emily Ho, associate professor, and her colleagues noted that “it is well documented that sulforaphane can target cancer cells through multiple chemopreventive mechanisms.”


One area of study concerning sulforaphane and cancer that has not gotten much attention has been in leukemia. Now investigators at Baylor College of Medicine have helped change that by exploring the use of purified sulforaphane in ALL cells in the laboratory.

What the researchers found was that concentrated sulforaphane has the ability to enter human ALL cells, interact with specific proteins, and kill the cancer cells through several different means. Healthy cells, however, are not affected by the broccoli compound.

So does this mean children with ALL will soon be prescribed lots of broccoli? According to Dr. Daniel Lacorazza, assistant professor of pathology and immunology and one of the study’s investigators, “while eating cruciferous vegetables is good for you, it will not have the same effect as what we saw in the lab,” as the scientists used a concentrated, purified form of the broccoli compound.

However, this study is important because it is the first one to show that sulforaphane has the ability to cause the death of leukemia cells via cell suicide (apoptosis), altering the cell cycle, and inhibiting a specific pathway. Thus broccoli may have a role in the fight against childhood leukemia.

Clarke JD et al. Differential effects of sulforaphane on histone deacetylases, cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in normal prostate cells versus hyperplastic and cancerous prostate cells. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 2011 Jul; 55(7): 999-1009

Suppipat K et al. Sulforaphane induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells. PLoS ONE 2012 Dec.

Image: Morguefile


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