An American organisation is ploughing $1m into a Norwich-based study to look at the protective effects of broccoli consumption against prostate cancer.

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The Prostate Cancer Foundation funding will go towards the work by the Institute of Food Research (IFR) and the University of East Anglia (UEA).

It builds upon several years of research led by Professor Richard Mithen on the biological activity of a naturally occurring compound called sulforaphane that is obtained in the diet from eating broccoli.

Professor Mithen and Dr Maria Traka will lead the research at IFR, and will collaborate with leading cancer genetics expert Professor Colin Cooper of UEA, and Mr Robert Mills and Professor Richard Ball at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Professor Cooper, supported by the Big C charity, has recently joined UEA’s Norwich Medical School and School of Biological Sciences.

Professor Cooper said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK - with more than 35,000 cases diagnosed each year. Around 11,000 men in the UK die from the disease.

“It has long been thought that what we eat can play a part in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer but the responsible dietary components have not yet been identified.”

Men who eat diets rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, have been shown to have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer, or of progressing from localised cancer to more aggressive forms of the disease. Studies using model systems have suggested that sulforaphane, which is found at high levels in broccoli, may be behind the protective effects.

The new study will follow changes in the metabolism and gene expression in prostate tissue of men identified as being at risk of developing prostate cancer, and see how these changes are affected by eating a diet enriched with sulforaphane.

Professor Richard Mithen said: “The results of this study could help men by providing evidence that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables or sulforaphane can reduce the likelihood of metastatic cancer, leading to the provision of higher quality dietary advice. It will also result in a greater understanding of metabolic and gene expression changes in prostate tissue that may lead to better drug development.”

This is one of nine ‘Challenge’ awards made by PCF in an effort to accelerate scientific discovery and new treatments for prostate cancer patients. It was selected after rigorous peer review of 96 applications from 10 countries.

The unique capacity of the Norwich Research Park to integrate high quality plant science research, food research and clinical studies on a single campus was an important factor in the granting of this prestigious award.

“The receipt of this ‘Challenge’ award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation is very exciting news for Norwich Research Park and testament to the innovative research carried out by scientists in our partner institutions,” said Matthew Jones, chief operating officer, Norwich Research Park.

“The nine funding awards have only been given to those working in cross-disciplinary areas of research with near-term patient benefits. This is further evidence of the value seen by an increasing number of organisations in the unique combination of expertise on Norwich Research Park, ranging from fundamental research through to clinical trials and we are delighted by this endorsement.”

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