Pomegranate extract helps boost immune cells that fight colorectal cancer

FRANKFURT, Germany — A substance in pomegranates could hold the key to a new treatment for colorectal cancer.

Like most cancers, this form of the disease becomes far deadlier the further it progresses without treatment. Research has made incredible progress when it comes to early diagnosis and strengthening treatment outcomes. However, many patients have problems tolerating these therapeutics due to their severe side-effects. Now, German researchers have identified a potential therapy that utilizes urolithin A (a metabolite in pomegranates) in order to boost immune cell function and fight off tumors.

Immune targets have become a much larger focus in cancer therapy because they often don’t cause as many detrimental side-effects as chemotherapy. It’s also important to explore these options more because research continuously shows that cancer inhibits our immune-fighting T-cells from working properly. This is why cancer tumors can bypass them and grow in such an unruly manner.

Professor Florian Greten and the team say their findings have a good chance of bringing scientists that much closer to finding an effective way to solve this cancer disadvantage. Through their work, they showed that urolithin A influences mitochondrial recycling and restoration through mitophagy. Damaged mitochondria in the T-cells are degraded and replaced by healthy ones during this process. This change helps alter T-cell genetics that favor its original tumor-fighting properties.

How can the pomegranate metabolite help cancer patients?

These findings show that urolithin A can work in two ways: as a food in preclinical models to inhibit tumor growth, and through in vitro treatment that “rejuvenates” T-cells.

“Our findings are particularly exciting because the focus is not on the tumor cell but on the immune system, the natural defense against cancer. This is where reliable therapeutic approaches are still lacking in the reality of colorectal cancer patients. By possibly improving the combination therapy with existing immunotherapies, the study opens up meaningful possibilities for further application in the clinic. We hope to use this to sustainably improve the therapy of colorectal cancer, but also of other cancers,” says study first author Dominic Denk, MD, a physician at Frankfurt University Hospital, in a media release.

In the future, the researchers are working on setting up clinical trials to assess urolithin A application in people with colorectal cancer.

The findings appear in the journal Immunity.

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