Enhanced chickens, eggs, may prevent breast cancer

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center are studying whether adding a component of cotton plants to chicken feed might result in anti-cancer eggs and chicken meat.

The researchers are studying a substance called gossypol that can be added to chicken feed made of cottonseed meal. The substance is a natural pigment and insect repellent found in cotton plants that also has important anti-cancer properties.

"We are trying to produce cancer-fighting chicken meat and eggs by feeding chickens gossypol-enriched cottonseed meal," says Dr. Young C. Lin, who is leading the research at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When chickens eat small quantities of gossypol-enriched cottonseed meal contained in feeds, it binds to protein in the chicken meat and in the yolks of their eggs.

"The theory is that if humans were to consume gossypol-enriched chicken meat or eggs, they could reap the anti-cancer benefits," says Lin, also a professor of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State. Dr. Macdonald Wick and Dr. Michael Lilburn of the Animal Science Department at Ohio State are also involved in this research effort.

Earlier studies conducted by Lin's and other laboratories indicate that gossypol inhibits the proliferation, angiogenesis and metastasis of drug-resistant cancer cell lines, including breast, ovary, cervix, uterus, adrenal, pancreas and colon. Based on published and preliminary studies of gossypol-enriched cottonseed oil and cottonseed meal by Lin and his colleagues at Ohio State, Lin is now studying the potential anti-cancer effect in human breast cancer cells when compared to conventional cottonseed meal.

Lin believes that bound gossypol would be released from the enhanced chickens and eggs by a human digestive enzyme, resulting in the same cancer protection that gossypol overwhelming displays in the lab.

Cottonseed oil enters the human diet through cooking, frying, processed foods and salad dressings. Earlier research has shown that gossypol can be toxic when consumed directly by humans, according to Dr. Michael Caligiuri, director of Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Dr. Lin's research is exciting and shows promise to stop cancer growth," says Caligiuri, who is also CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State. "The notion that we could enjoy our food and at the same time receive an agent or a drug that could prevent cancer is ideal."

The egg industry is already engaged in modifying the diets of hens to produce "designer eggs" that contain enhanced concentrations of selected nutrients. In 2004, it was estimated that 5 percent of the total egg market - $3 billion - was represented by these specialty eggs. The two primary target nutrients have been omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.

"Tailor-made food components that possess anti-cancer and cancer chemopreventive effects in meat and eggs produced by hens fed with gossypol-enriched cottonseed meal will be a novel vision for improving value of agricultural commodities," says Lin.