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Biochemist checks tea leaves for cancer cure

By Kelly Foss

The Chinese have long known about the medicinal benefits of green tea, from lowering cholesterol and encouraging weight loss to fighting disease and aiding those suffering from a number of ailments.

One researcher at Memorial University is hoping to show that green tea polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), may also prevent colon cancer and render anti-viral effects when combined with certain Omega 3 fatty acids.

Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi, a university research professor in the Department of Biochemistry, explains that the while green tea is a good antioxidant and is known to have anti-cancer effects, it is not without some short comings.

“We know from experience that green tea is not well absorbed by the body,” he said. “Our premise was to see if by adding something to it that has its own benefits, like Omega 3 fatty acids, we might get an entity that would have improved properties in terms of its absorption and health benefits.”

Their research proved that it was indeed the case, but further testing on animals provided other surprising results.

“When mice which had been exposed to carcinogens that usually produced significant numbers of tumours were given the green tea/Omega 3 compound at the same time there was absolutely no tumour formation,” said Dr. Shahidi. “That was quite exciting to us.”

They are currently researching to see which Omega 3 oils work best and expending the project to see if they can combine Omega 3 with other beneficial molecules that have proven difficult for bodies to absorb, such as certain cholesterol lowering agents.

“This program is promising in a number of areas,” said Dr. Shahidi. “The true test will be how well these things can be used in real life and whether they can be used as a pharmaceutical agent, in food use or as a supplement.”

Dr. Shahidi believes that although there is much research left to be done, having the work approved by the country’s regulatory agencies should be a relatively simple process.

“There are other instances where similar types of compounds have been modified to obtain products that are fat soluble and our work in this area mimics that,” he said. “We have one new molecule made up of two well-known and well-described molecules. From that point we are one step closer to approval compared to having a totally new molecule.”

A provisional patent has now been filed to protect the intellectual property so it is now possible for Dr. Shahidi to begin talking to the food, supplement and pharmaceutical industries about research funding for further exploration. The provincial government recently announced their investment of $10,000 into the project.

Dr. Shahidi says the work has benefited from the contribution of his graduate students. In this particular project, Ying (Joy) Zhong has been recognized by receiving several awards for her work and Zhuliang Tan will be receiving an award later this month from the American Oil Chemists’ Society. The European Federation for the Science and Technology of Lipids (EuroFed Lipids) has selected Dr. Shahidi, himself, to receive the European Lipid Technology Award later this year.