OAKLAND, CALIF. — Scientists at the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland have identified a new class of therapeutic agents found naturally in soy that may help prevent and possibly cure colon cancer.

The agent is called Sphingadienes (SDs).

"It’s very exciting," said Julie Saba, senior scientist and director at the Cancer Center at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. "First, we are encouraged to find a natural molecule that could be consumed through soy products as a strategy to help prevent colon cancer. Second, this information is important because we can build on our understanding of the structure and metabolism of SDs in terms of developing new drugs to treat people who already have colon cancer. Uncovering how SDs exert their effects also helps us to find the most likely combinations of drugs that may work synergistically to eliminate cancer cells and mutant cells that could give rise to cancer."

The research team found elevated SD levels in fruit flies actually induced the death of mutant cells, and killing suspect cells is a cancer-fighting strategy. Future research is needed to identify the best way to deliver SDs and to confirm the overall toxicity when the compounds are used for extended periods of time and in combination with other agents.