Lab Study Shows Grape Seed Extract Kills Leukemia Cells

University of Kentucky researchers have discovered that an extract of grape seed killed seventy-six percent of leukemia cells when exposed to the substance during laboratory studies. Xianglin Shi, Ph.D., professor in the Graduate Center for Toxicology at the University of Kentucky, conducted the research that shows promise for treatment of cancer using natural compounds that do not destroy normal cells.

The object of the study was to discover if grape seed extract had the same effect on leukemia, a hematological, or blood cancer, as it does on cancer of the skin, breast, colon, lung and prostate, as shown in previous studies. Hematological cancers are the fourth leading type of cancer and cause of cancer death in the United States.

Evidence has been mounting showing the cancer preventive effects of fruits and vegetables. Dr. Shi and colleagues have specifically been studying the role of proanthocyanidins, a substance found naturally in fruits and vegetables, as well as in the seeds of many plants. Proanthocyanidins are a class of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants.

In the current study, Dr. Shi found that grape seed extract, in higher doses, disrupted the JNK pathway that promotes cancer growth, causing the leukemia cells to die. JNK is an enzyme that through a complex series of events, senses inflammation in the body, setting off a cascade of events that control cellular function. The scientists are not sure why the grape seed extract destroyed only the leukemia cells, leaving the normal cells alone. Prior research from Dr. Shi has also shown that apple peel extract has potential for fighting cancer because it contains proanthocyanidins.

Dr. Shi says grape seed extract might prove to be an effective cancer fighter, saying, “This is a natural compound that appears to have relatively important properties." He is cautious about recommending grape seed extract for cancer prevention or cancer treatment just yet. Further studies are pending.

The findings are published in the January 1, 2009, issue of Clinical Cancer Research. According to the author, “These results could have implications for the incorporation of agents such as grape seed extract into prevention or treatment of hematological malignancies and possibly other cancers." This is the first study demonstrating that grape seed extract, obtained commercially, can kill leukemia cells without destroying normal cells.

Kathleen Blanchard RN

Grape Seed Extract Kills Laboratory Leukemia Cells, Proving Value of Natural Compounds