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Researcher Patents Cancer Treatment

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Written by Adam Zewe

A University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) scientist has received a U.S. patent for a new cancer treatment method that utilizes a combination of two natural compounds. Pei Feng, MD, PhD, professor and director of the Office of Research, was awarded a patent titled "Potent Inhibitory Effect of Zinc in Combination with Sulforaphane on Cancer Cell Growth."

The novel cancer therapy Feng developed involves integrating zinc and sulforaphane to kill cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth. Sulforaphane is an organic molecule that is found in broccoli and cauliflower. Sulforaphane and zinc are synergistic, which means that when the compounds are combined, their anti-cancer effects are magnified, Feng explains. "Combination usage is ideal for cancer therapy because, if a lower dose of each compound is used, they are not as toxic to the patient," remarks Feng. "Another benefit is that combinations of agents targeting different cell growth pathways reduce the risk of cancer cells developing resistance to the agents."

She drew inspiration for this research project from traditional Chinese medicine, which relies on many different herbs that are used in combinations to treat patients. Feng applied that same principle to molecular biology. "Cancer cells grow using multiple signal pathways. Knowing that, I thought that we should use several compounds to attack the multiple pathways of cancer cell growth," Feng says.

She discovered the cancer-killing properties of zinc earlier in her career. Her research focuses on the different mechanisms cancer cells use to grow and move throughout the body. "I appreciate the students, postdocs and fellows who have contributed to this research over the years," she says.

Feng is hopeful that this patent will lead to more studies of zinc and sulforaphane as a combined cancer therapy. Both zinc and sulforaphane are widely available and relatively inexpensive, so the compounds could be used to produce a simple, but effective cancer treatment, she says. More research and development is needed before this technique will be ready for clinical applications, but Feng feels confident that other investigators will use her work as a building block for future studies. "I am happy to get this patent, but this is not the end, this is just the beginning," states Feng.

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