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Promise and Progress - Human Chemical Detoxifiers

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Human Chemical Detoxifiers

Date: January 15, 2015


Food and Chemical Toxicology, May 19, 2014

A compound in saliva and proteins in blood and muscle may protect human cells from powerful toxins, known as polyphenols, found in tea, coffee, and liquid smoke flavoring. 

Research led by Kimmel Cancer Center investigator Scott Kern, M.D., the Kovler Professor of Oncology and Pathology, suggests a natural defense against DNA-damaging chemicals found in commonly consumed beverages and flavorings.  In laboratory research, Kern and team, observed DNA damage caused by the toxins was far more extensive that that caused by chemotherapy drugs, so they knew that cells must be fighting back.

“These chemicals are in the foods and drinks people consume everyday, and they damage DNA to such a high degree that there should be far more illness from them,” says Kern.  “We wanted to find the mechanisms that protect us on a daily basis from the plants we choose to eat.”

His research revealed an enzyme in saliva called alpha-amylase, the blood protein albumin, and muscle protein myoglobin as the cell defenders. In addition, they found that cells repeatedly exposed to the toxins appeared to develop resistance to them and no longer required the help of the enzymes and proteins, perhaps proving the adage, Kern says, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Kern hopes his research will reveal how these natural defenses are circumvented in some people, causing cancer and other illnesses.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (CA62924) and the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professorship in Pancreas Cancer Research.

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