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VTT: New findings on the anticancer effects of flavonoids


Research expected to boost development of cancer drugs

Researchers from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, University of Turku and the Foundation for the Finnish Cancer Institute have produced new knowledge about flavonoid effects on cancer cells. This research could explain why certain flavonoids curb the growth of cancer cells.

Flavonoids are compounds that can be found in, for example, berries, fruit and vegetables and have potential health-promoting qualities. The research findings were published in Carcinogenesis on 2nd of June 2009 (DOI: BGP101).


According to international research, a diet that contains large amounts of certain flavonoids, such as quercetin and lycopene, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Flavonoids have also been discovered to act as inhibitors of free radicals and so have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Although these effects are well known, what are the mechanisms of action of flavonoids inside the cell has remained largely unknown.

The research group headed by Dr. Marko Kallio, Special Research Scientist at VTT, sought for new natural compounds affecting the cell division among a library consisting 1,500 compounds. In the work, the team utilised VTT’s automated high-throughput screening facility and a novel functional cell-based assay designed to detect erroneous exit from the cell division phase. The most effective small molecule identified was a flavonoid called fisetin, which can be found in, for example, berries, fruits and red wine.

The group discovered that fisetin prevented normal cell division in cancer cell and generated chromosome-level errors that increased death rate of the cancer cell. The research group also proved that the observed errors in cell division were due to direct inhibition of Aurora-B kinase activity by fisetin in the cells. This is a significant discovery, as Aurora B is a key regulator of cell division and a major research target for several pharmaceutical companies developing new cancer drugs.

In the further experiments currently underway, Dr. Kallio’s group aims to find out whether the anticancer effects of fisetin could be intensified or is the compound harmful to normal cells when present in high concentrations.

Flavonoids are compounds that occur naturally in berries, vegetables and fruits, and which have been discovered to have beneficial health effects. Plants generate flavonoids as protection against fungal diseases and bacteria. The main sources of flavonoids in the Finnish diet are onions, berries, tea and apples.

Further information on VTT's research: Cancer biology, high-throughput screening and bioactivity