ETSU researchers study vitamin that shows promise in preventing cancer


JOHNSON CITY (July 26, 2013) – An interdisciplinary research team that draws upon faculty members from East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine and Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy is studying a specific form of vitamin E called tocotrienol that is derived from a bean found in the world’s tropical regions and may be effective in preventing cancer.

Dr. K. Krishnan and Dr. William Stone, professors with the Quillen College of Medicine, are heading up research on the potential of tocotrienol to be used in treatment and prevention of several types of cancer, including pancreatic, prostate and colon cancer. Tocotrienol is one of the many different compounds of vitamin E and is derived from the annatto bean, which grows in tropical and subtropical regions.

Krishnan is holder of the Paul Dishner Chair of Excellence in Medicine and Stone is a researcher in the ETSU Department of Pediatrics. Krishnan is chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the ETSU Department of Internal Medicine and practices hematology/oncology at the Regional Cancer Center.

The ETSU research team also includes Dr. Sharon Campbell, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the Department of Biomedical Sciences; Dr. Kanishka Chakraborty, an assistant professor of hematology/oncology in the Department of Internal Medicine; and Dr. Victoria Palau, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, as well as medical residents and graduate students. Stone said it is important to note that the team’s research is defined as translational, meaning it is the sort of study where basic research is applied to the practical treatment of diseases.

Another salient fact, Stone said, is the dearth of published tocotrienol research despite its signs of promise in fighting cancer. Krishnan served as editor of a new book, “Oxidative Stress in Cancer Biology and Therapy,” which became a scientific bestseller. Stone has researched vitamin E for over three decades and is the chief editor of a planned book, “Free Radicals: The Role of Antioxidants and Pro-oxidants in Cancer Development.”

“There have been a number of studies on vitamin E, but most research doesn’t distinguish between the different forms of vitamin E, and our research at ETSU does distinguish between tocotrienols and other vitamin E compounds,” Stone said. “Vitamin E isn’t a single organic compound, and the different compounds have distinct chemistries and biological effects.”

Stone said a well-publicized study concluded that vitamin E did not prevent prostate cancer or any other common form of cancer. But as is the case with most other vitamin E research, Stone said, there was no differentiation among its various compounds. Tocotrienol is a form of the vitamin that is low in most diets and not usually found in most dietary supplements.

“Generalizing a clinical finding with one form of vitamin E to all other vitamin E compounds is not well-justified,” Stone said, “but it is a study that was widely publicized. It’s a hurdle for us to overcome.”

Stone said that testing tocotrienol in cancer clinical trials would be a major step forward. To build consensus in the scientific community for such trials, Stone said the ETSU translational research team is planning an international conference to focus on tocotrienol as a cancer-fighting agent.

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