A South Dakota State University scientist's
research shows an extract made from a food plant in the
Brassica family was effective in alleviating signs of
ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel condition, in
The ongoing study by associate professor Moul Dey in
SDSU's Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences --
funded by the National Institutes of Health -- moves on now
to examine the potential use of the plant extract against
"There is an established link between ulcerative colitis
and colon cancer. People who have ulcerative colitis are at
significantly higher risk to have colon cancer," Dey said.
"Whether this plant extract might help with colon cancer
symptoms directly or perhaps delay the onset of colon cancer
in ulcerative colitis patients, we don't know the answers to
those questions, but it is something we would like to look
Dey and her team will carry out that research over the
next two and a half years as she continues her work on a
Pathway to Independence award for promising young
scientists. That National Institutes of Health grant of
nearly $900,000 over five years was awarded to Dey for work
she began as a researcher at Rutgers University.
As a researcher at Rutgers starting in 2004, Dey
developed a mammalian cell-based screening platform and
screened nearly 3,000 plant extracts for potential
anti-inflammatory activity. A plant-derived compound called
Phenethylisothiocyanate, or PEITC, was one among others that
showed potential anti-inflammatory activities. The NIH
funded Dey's proposal to study it further.
PEITC is found in the Brassica genus of plants, which
includes cabbage, cauliflower, watercress and broccoli.
Barbarea verna, also known as upland cress or early
wintercress, a herb that is used in salads, soups, and
garnishes, is one of the richest sources of dietary PEITC in
Scientists had already studied the compound for its
anticarcinogenic properties prior to Dey's investigation on
its anti-inflammatory activities.
"I tested this substance in a mouse model that is already
established and widely used. What we found is that it not
only alleviates several clinical signs of ulcerative colitis
-- for example, it attenuates the damage that occurs in the
colon tissues and colon epithelium, as well as the clinical
signs like diarrhea and blood in stool. The weight loss is a
major sign in colitis and that was alleviated, too."
However, she noted that although mammalian animal models are
routinely used for an initial test of biological effects of
compounds targeted for potential human use, obtained results
may not always repeat in humans.
Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a set of chronic
and relapsing inflammatory disorders of the intestine that
affects an estimated 2 million people annually in the United
States. Two common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and
When Dey and her colleagues looked into the mechanism by
which the compound might be working against IBD, they found
that it downregulates many of the genes that are known to be
upregulated in human patients with colitis. That means the
compound acts on cells to decrease the quantity of cellular
components such as specific proteins that are produced
abundantly in colitis patients. One such protein is a novel
transcription factor. Transcription factors are one of the
groups of proteins that read and interpret the genetic
"blueprint" in the DNA.
"We are excited about these findings and our next step
would be to see how this plant and the compounds from this
plant may be effective against colon cancer, alleviating
colon cancer or preventing the onset of colon cancer," Dey
"I am not a cancer biologist per se. My interests are
really in cellular mechanisms of inflammatory diseases. The
only reason we are going to study colon cancer in this
particular project is because ulcerative colitis is very
closely linked to colon cancer."
Colon carcinogenesis is highly preventable, yet colon
cancer has one of the highest death rates among all cancers
due to typical late diagnosis.
Since people already eat vegetables containing PEITC,
there is a long history of human consumption with no adverse
"Obviously the dose we are testing is significantly
higher than what we eat in a vegetable, but we have done
multiple safety tests and found that this dose is safe in
animals," Dey said.
Dey has no plans to test the extract in humans as part of
the current project, but said additional tests would be
required if the extract leads to new drugs or treatments in
Dey's co-authors are Peter Kuhn of Phytomedics Inc., of
Jamesburg, N.J.; David Ribnicky, Kenneth Reuhl and Ilya
Raskin of Rutgers University, and VummidiGiridhar Premkumar,
who is currently at University of Cincinnati.
- Dey et al. Dietary phenethylisothiocyanate
attenuates bowel inflammation in mice. BMC
Chemical Biology, 2010; 10 (1): 4 DOI: