Researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the CU School of Medicine have published a new study in the journal of Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology which revealed that the substance resveratrol found in grape skins and in red wine acts as a cancer preventative agent.
“Alcohol bombards your genes. Your body has ways to repair this damage, but with enough alcohol eventually some damage isn’t fixed. That’s why excessive alcohol use is a factor in head and neck cancer. Now, resveratrol challenges these cells — the ones with unrepaired DNA damage are killed, so they can’t go on to cause cancer. Alcohol damages cells and resveratrol kills damaged cells,” said Robert Sclafani, PhD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the CU School of Medicine.
The researchers identified resveratrol through their analysis of another disease called Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder that affects about 1 in every 350,000 babies. DNA naturally accumulates tangles called “cross links” and healthy genes can repair and disentangle cross-linked DNA. In Fanconi anemia, people are born without the ability to repair DNA cross links and so DNA damage accumulates. Therefore, patients with Fanconi anemia are at greatly increased risk of developing cancers including leukemias and also head and neck cancer.
“With enough alcohol, the body can get behind and end up with a backlog of acetyl aldehyde,” Sclafani said. “Increased exposure to alcohol, loss of the ALDH gene that helps the body process alcohol, and loss of the ability to repair DNA cross links all result in increased cancer risk.” “But when you look at epidemiological studies of head and neck cancer, alcohol is a factor, but by alcohol source, the lowest cancer incidence is in people who drank red wine,” Sclafani said. “In red wine, there’s something that’s blocking the cancer-causing effect of alcohol.”
The scientists described the effects of resveratrol in terms of probability: “The more you drink, the more you accumulate DNA damage, and the more chance that one or more cells will accumulate the specific type of DNA damage that can cause cancer. Now, resveratrol takes out the cells with the most damage — the cells that have the highest probability of being able to cause cancer.”
“Because alcohol-related head and neck cancer has a high rate of recurrence, after a cancer has been treated once, you’ve still got a very high-risk population,” Sclafani said.
Sangeeta Shrotriya, Rajesh Agarwal, Robert A. Sclafani. A Perspective on Chemoprevention by Resveratrol in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, December 2014 DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-09614-8_19