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Wine Compound Resveratrol's Latest Role: Killer of Leukemia Cells

Chinese researchers find the organic compound inhibits growth of most-common childhood cancer
Photo by: James Worrell
Resveratrol, a compound that protects plants from pathogens, is found in grape skins and wine.

Kasey Carpenter
Posted: March 17, 2016

Resveratrol, an organic compound found in grape skins and wine, has shown promise in treating multiple maladies. But scientists are still laboring to understand how it works and how to harness those healing properties.

Now a team of researchers in China has discovered another possible use for resveratrol—as a weapon against leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. And how resveratrol appears to combat leukemia cells is yet another wrinkle in this compound's mysteries.

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. Cancerous blood cells, often the white blood cells that make up our immune system, crowd out healthy cells in the bone marrow where new cells form. While it strikes people over age 55 most often, it is also the most common cancer among children under age 15. Recent advances in therapies and transplant technologies have helped many patients, but the disease still kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.

The new research was published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, and was authored by Binghua Wang, Jiao Liu and Zhanfeng Gong of the Department of Hematology, Wendeng Central Hospital of Weihai, China.

What is interesting about their findings is the manner in which resveratrol fights leukemia, by way of a process called apoptosis—which is different from how resveratrol handles other maladies such as aging, where evidence suggests the compound helps cells repair themselves, or post-trauma healing, in which resveratrol functions as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Apoptosis is controlled cell death, unlike necrosis, which is more traumatic and unpredictable. The study found that resveratrol significantly decreased cell viability and triggered cell apoptosis in leukemia cells.

The test was conducted by exposing cancerous cells to varying dilutions of resveratrol, ranging from 10 micrometers to 160 micrometers, for varying time periods of 24, 48 and 72 hours. Damage to the leukemia cells after treatment with resveratrol was observed in the form of cell shrinkage and membrane deformation, among other signs.

Resveratrol inhibited the growth of the leukemia cells by 60.9 percent after treatment for 24 hours, by 67.9 percent after 48 hours, and by 70.3 percent after 72 hours. The maximum inhibition rate of 70.3 percent was found when the scientists used 160 micrometers for 72 hours. This shows that the effectiveness of resveratrol as a leukemia therapy is dependent on both concentration of dosage and time spent in contact with the target cells.

While the exact mechanism by which resveratrol triggers apoptosis isn't fully clear, the results suggest that this might be due to resveratrol's interference of mitochondrial pathways within the leukemia cell—essentially jamming the communication systems of the cell.

These results show promise for the development of resveratrol as an effective and natural therapy for the treatment of leukemia, particularly among those patients who do not respond to more traditional therapies such as chemotherapy.

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