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Blueberries May Inhibit Growth Of Blood-Vessel Tumor

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Researchers at The Ohio State University have shown that feeding a blueberry extract to mice with tumors that are primarily found in infants and children will decrease tumor size and increase survival.

Mice that were fed the blueberry extract lived twice as long as control animals and had tumors that were 60 percent smaller in size, the study found.

The study looked at a tumor of blood vessels called hemangionendotheliomas. Tumors that are made from endothelial cells found in blood vessels affect about 3 percent of children, usually occur within four weeks of birth and more often affect premature infants.

“This work provides the first evidence demonstrating that blueberry extract can limit tumor formation by inhibiting the formation of blood vessels and inhibiting certain signaling pathways,” says principal investigator Dr. Gayle Gordillo, director of research in the Division of Plastic Surgery at The Ohio State University Medical Center. “Oral administration of blueberry extract represents a potential therapeutic strategy for treating endothelial cell tumors in children.”

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The findings are published this month in the journal of Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, the leading journal in its field.

About 90 percent of these vascular tumors will resolve on their own within 9 years, so usually they are not treated and the family waits for them to go away naturally. However, they often occur on the head or neck, resulting in an obvious deformity, and can be life-threatening if they obstruct the airway, says Gordillo, who collaborated on the study with Dr. Chandan K. Sen, a member of the Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention program in Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of the Comprehensive Wound Center.

Gordillo describes the tumor as like a big, blood-filled sponge. Current treatment options such as high-dose steroids can cause developmental delays and suppression of the immune system, so they are not ideal for treating young children. Surgically removing the tumors is generally avoided because the child could potentially bleed to death or have a significant deformity, she says. Many families end up choosing to accept the deformity that these tumors cause in their children because the risks associated with treatment are so severe.

“Our hope is that if we feed blueberry juice to a child with this type of tumor, we can intervene and shrink the tumor before it becomes a big problem,” says Gordillo, who directs the Hemangioma Vascular Malformation Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. “Our next step is a pilot study with humans to see if we can measure response to the treatment using imaging techniques and the monitoring of chemical changes in the urine,” says Gordillo.

The study also showed that the blueberry extract inhibited two important biochemical signaling pathways needed by tumor cells to grow. This finding could have implications in other cancers, including breast, some melanomas, head and neck and ovarian, Gordillo says.