Thursday, February 16, 2006

CDDO-Im, derived from Oleanolic Acid, May Protect Against Liver Cancer

Tipped off from a post at Science Blog, I just read this article on the NIH website pertaining to a newly-discovery compound that seems to protect against the development of some forms of cancer.  The study they report upon dealt with liver cancer, specifically, but there are theoretical reasons to think that other forms of cancer -- and other diseases -- could be prevented as well.
New Compound May Protect Against Liver Cancer

Researchers have identified a new compound called CDDO-Im that protects against the development of liver cancer in laboratory animals. The compound appears to stimulate the enzymes that remove toxic substances from the cells, thereby increasing the cells’ resistance to cancer-causing toxins. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute, agencies of the federal National Institutes of Health, provided funding to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for the two-year study.

The compound’s effectiveness at very low doses suggests it may have similar cancer-fighting properties in humans. Researchers believe it may be particularly effective in preventing cancers with a strong inflammatory component, such as liver, colon, prostate and gastric cancers. The compound could eventually play a preventive role in a wide range of other illnesses such as neurodegenerative disease, asthma and emphysema. [...]
The news release goes on to say that the compound, CDD-Im, has antiinflammatory properties.  In addition...
CDDO-Im activates a protein called Nrf2 that plays a central role in protecting the cells against the toxic effects of environmental agents. “Nrf2 directs certain genes to stimulate the cell’s defense mechanisms,” he said. “The protein also stimulates key enzymes that can detoxify harmful agents like aflatoxin and remove them from the cell.”
The overall tone of the NIH news release is unusually positive.  As a result, I am fairly sure that all kinds of schemes will be marketed based upon this preliminary research.  It would be wise to keep in mind that the research is in the very early stages.

You may recall that there used to be hope that rofecoxib (Vioxx) could have protective effects against the growth of colon cancer, based upon its antiinflammatory properties.  In fact, it was a study designed to assess this effect that led to the discovery that Vioxx can increase the risk of vascular disease.  

The fact is, inflammation is a complex and delicate process.  It exists for a reason.  Sometimes it makes good sense to interfere with the process, but it should not be assumed that suppressing inflammation is always a good thing.  

Based upon the news release, it sounds as though CDDO-Im has profound, widespread antiinflammatory properties.  It is just a guess at this point, but I would imagine that we would need to find some way to target the effect in some way, to obtain only the effects that we want, and to avoid effects that we do not want.