Epicures may call it the stinking rose, but garlic by any other name will still carry that heady aroma, potent enough to keep vampires--and perhaps even a disease or two--at bay.

Selenium-enriched garlic is just one of the "designer foods" being tested as a cancer preventative by Clement Ip, PhD, a breast cancer researcher in Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Division of Breast Surgery. These days. In's laboratory smells like an Italian restaurant.

In one recent study, Ip discovered that garlic--enriched by the anticancer agent selenium--protected animals against breast tumors.

Selenium--a non-metallic element that resembles sulfur--has been Ip's major research interest over the last 15 years. "My studies and those of others have shown that selenium protects against breast cancer. My goal has been to find the best ways to incorporate sufficient quantities of selenium safely into foods."

His choice of garlic is a natural. The vegetable is abundantly rich in sulfur. Several of the sulfur-containing agents in garlic are responsible not only for the flavor and pungency of the "stinking rose," but also its moderate anticancer activity. "Plants convert inorganic selenium in soil to organic selenium analogs of naturally-occuring sulfur compounds." said Ip. "By substituting sulfur with selenium, we had hoped to produce more powerful anticancer agents in garlic."
A researcher at Cornell University grew the crops of garlic in a selenium enriched medium and provided them to Ip for testing. Ip compared these crops to those grown in normal soil. The two types of garlic were milled into powders and fed to experimental rats which had been treated with a carcinogen to induce breast tumors.

The selenium-enriched garlic was far superior to garlic in suppressing breast cancer. "Our research shows that by incorporating selenium into a plant that is already rich in sulfur, the potential for cancer prevention is significantly enhanced," noted Ip.

"However, more research needs to be conducted on the application--and implication--of cultivating crops or vegetables in a selenium-fertilized medium."

Ip has also been investigating the anticancer properties of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally occuring fatty acid found primarily in dairy products and meat. "CLA is unique because its effectiveness in the animal model is expressed at concentration close to human consumption levels," noted IP, and "unlike most fatty acids, CLA prevents rather than stimulates cancer development."

Based on preliminary but encouraging lab tests, Ip believes that CLA will be tomorrow's strong bet for reducing--through foods--one's susceptibility to breast cancer. Right now, says Ip, there are a few questions that need answers. "If we can further characterize the action of CLA and explain how it works, there is a good possibility that CLA-enriched foods will serve as the prototype of a new generation of designer foods."


"Designer foods," explains Ip, "are particularly appealing to people who are unwilling to change their eating habits but still desire alternative food choices for cancer prevention."

Breast cancer strikes one in eight American women. In 1992, 180,000 new cases were diagnosed and 46,000 women died from the disease. Because no one knows what causes breast cancer, current basic research has stepped up efforts to investigate ways to prevent the disease.
By Collen M. Karuga

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