Pomegranates can fight tumours
German scientists studying therapies for colorectal cancer have discovered that a substance found in pomegranates, known as urolithin A, significantly boosts our capacity to ward off cancer by triggering a constant supply of rejuvenated T cells.
Early diagnosis and treatment for colon cancer has improved in recent years but not all patients respond well to new treatments, so it remains a disease with high mortality rates at the advanced stage.
Current thinking suggests immune cells that are supposed to fight the tumour are suppressed by the surrounding tissue of the tumour. As a result, T cells, which are the body’s natural immune response against cancer, are restricted and the tumour is allowed to grow and spread uncontrollably.
A team in Frankfurt led by Professor Florian Greten of the Georg-Speyer-Haus research institute report they are now closer to solving the problem. They say urolithin A recycles and renews mitochondria — the power plants inside T cells — through a process known as mitophagy. When urolithin A is introduced, old and damaged mitochondria in the T cells are removed and replaced by new, functional ones. This changes the genetic make up of the T cells, which are then more capable of fighting the tumour.
“Our findings are particularly exciting because the focus is not on the tumour cell but on the immune system — the natural defence against cancer,” says Dr Dominic Denk of the Frankfurt University Hospital and first author of the study. “We hope to use this to sustainably improve the therapy of colorectal cancer, but also of other cancers.”
Building on these findings, published in the journal Immunity, the researchers now plan to apply urolithin A in clinical trials to treat people with colon cancer. “We are very pleased that we can now quickly transfer our results to the clinic and look forward with excitement to the upcoming clinical trials,” concludes Greten.