The study, led by Associate Professor Margreet Vissers of the University’s Free Radical Research Group, is the first real evidence of a connection between vitamin C and tumour growth.
Associate Professor Vissers says “Our results offer a promising and simple intervention to help in our fight against cancer, at the level of both prevention and cure”.
The article is in the latest edition of the prestigious Cancer Research journal.
The role of vitamin C in cancer treatment has been the subject of debate for years, with many anecdotal accounts of the beneficial role of vitamin C in both the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Previous research by Associate Professor Vissers has demonstrated the vitamin’s importance in maintaining cell health and hinted at its potential for limiting diseases such as cancer.
Her latest study looked at whether vitamin C levels were lowered in patients with endometrial tumours.
It investigated whether the cancer cells had low vitamin C levels and whether this correlated with tumour aggressiveness and resistance to chemotherapy. Associate Professor Vissers and her colleagues found tumours were less able to accumulate vitamin C compared with normal healthy tissue, and that this related to the ability of the tumour to survive and grow.
Tumours with low vitamin C levels had more of a protein called HIF-1 which allows them to thrive in conditions of stress.
The findings are significant as they show, for the first time, a direct relationship between HIF-1 and vitamin C levels in tumours and suggest it would be beneficial for people with cancer cells to have more vitamin C. This could help limit the rate of tumour growth, increase the responsiveness to chemotherapy and may prevent the formation of solid tumours.
The study was funded by the University of Otago and the Tertiary Education Commission.