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The latest weapon in the war against skin cancer is lean, green, and universally abhorred by small children. We’re talking about broccoli, of course. The key, according to researcher Sally Dickinson, lies in sulforaphane, a naturally occurring compound in broccoli with established chemopreventive properties. Dickinson isn’t asking her patients to chow down on the cruciferous veggie, which has previously demonstrated risk-reduction properties for various forms of cancer, as a way to unlock its skin-protecting nutrients, however. Rather, she wants them to apply small doses of sulforaphane to their skin like they would sunscreen.
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“Even though there is heightened awareness about the need for limited sun exposure and use of sunscreens, we’re still seeing far too many cases of skin cancer each year,” says Dickinson, a research assistant professor in the pharmacology department at the University of Arizona and a University of Arizona Cancer Center member, “We’re searching for better methods to prevent skin cancer in formats that are affordable and manageable for public use. Sulforaphane may be an excellent candidate for use in the prevention of skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays.”
Dickinson’s research reveals that sulforaphane is highly effective at inhibiting cancer-causing pathways.
Dickinson’s research reveals that sulforaphane is highly adaptable and effective at inhibiting cancer-causing pathways (such as the AP-1 protein), while activating chemoprotective genes (such as the Nrf2 gene). A pilot study, conducted in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, will test a topical broccoli-sprout solution on the skin of a group of patients to ascertain the compound’s efficacy under solar simulated light. (Previous studies demonstrated the extract’s safety for both topical and oral use.)
If the research proves successful, Dickinson believes it could lead to wider applications for sulforaphane, particularly for patients with compromised immune systems.
“Sulforaphane is the kind of compound that has so many incredible theoretical applications if the dosage is measured properly,” Dickinson says. “We already know that it is very effective in blocking sunburns, and we have seen cases where it can induce protective enzymes in the skin.”