Using the properties of vitamin D to fight colon cancer has long been a paradox wrapped in an enigma. Large doses of the vitamin, which is absorbed by humans primarily through exposure to sunlight, are needed to prevent colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.
But high doses of vitamin D also produce high amounts of calcium, which can cause toxicity in the blood. Now, scientists at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center offer research that indicates it might be possible to separate vitamin D's cancer-fighting properties from its other functions.
The study, reported in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Cell, found that mutant forms of the protein that binds to vitamin D in the cell will allow vitamin D to regulate a cancer-causing protein called beta catenin without promoting the calcium for bone development.
"We found that we might be able to separate the two functions at the molecular level, and this raises the possibility that vitamin D can be chemically modified into a drug that will only have anticancer effects," said Stephen Byers, an adjunct professor in Georgetown's departments of oncology and cell biology and co-author of the study in a press release.
But Byers also warned that such a drug would not be a cure for colon cancer. "That's because we know that by the time colon cancer is well advanced it fails to respond to vitamin D," he said.