Colorado State University Scientists Say Ancient Solutions Could Help in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Can a bean really help cancer? Colorado State University scientists Henry J. Thompson and Mark A. Brick seem to think so.

The National Cancer Institute awarded a $1.54 million five-year grant to scientists Thompson and Brick in CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences to study the disease-fighting ability of a common bean domesticated in the Andean Mountains of South America.

Over the centuries cannellini beans were introduced into parts of Europe where they were featured in Mediterranean cuisine, ultimately becoming a dietary staple, said Brick, CSU’s lead bean breeder. Since then, beans have essentially vanished from the American dining room table, said Thompson.

“If there is such a thing as a food deficiency, the decline in common bean consumption from the recommended 200 grams per person per day to the estimated 10 grams per day in the United States would be a strong candidate,” said Thompson.

While the study focused on cannellini beans because of their strong protective activity against breast cancer in preclinical trials, many types of common beans have also shown protective activity in laboratory models.

The primary goal for the new grant is to establish cellular and molecular mechanisms that account for the beans’ protective activity against breast cancer and focus specifically on insulin resistance and lipid metabolism, two factors that play a prominent role in Type-2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Through this research, Brick and Thompson will be able to make specific recommendations about the types and amounts of common beans people should consume to remain healthy.

This research project is part of the university’s Crops for Health program that Thompson and Brick helped launch as a transdisciplinary program of research and outreach. Crops for Health involves faculty in a broad range of disciplines who are interested in food consumerism.