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COLUMBIA - A visiting MU researcher is working to fight cancer with blueberries - specifically the extract of the fruit.

Dr. Yujiang Fang says a key component in blueberries is resveratrol, which can be used to treat cancer.

"Plus blueberry also contains other chemicals like flavonoids, which has been shown to have killing effect to cancer cells," he said. "So it's very, very reasonable to assume that blueberry can be used as a radiosensitizer because of it contains resveratrol, plus it contains flavonoids."

Radiosensitizers are often used to help increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy, while also lowering the dosage necessary.

At the moment, Fang's research is focusing specifically on cervical cancer. 

Fang said it's one of the most common cancers in females worldwide, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 12,000 women are diagnosed each year. 

In the latest stages of cervical cancer, Fang said it's necessary for patients to undergo radiation therapy.

"The problem's that if you give higher dosage, it not only kills cancer cells, but also kills healthy cells," Fang said. "So we need to find a chemical, or something which has little side effect, but is productive, very effective to kill cancer and at the same time reduce killing healthy cells". 

At the moment, Fang said his research is in the early stages. He and his team are currently applying the blueberry extract to cancer cells directly - in vitro. 

In the study, Fang and his team divided the cervical cancer cells into four groups. The groups included a control group receiving no treatment, a group receiving only radiation treatment, a group receiving only blueberry extract and a group receiving both. 

Fang said the group receiving only radiation decreased cancer cells by about 20 percent, the group receiving only blueberry extract reduced cancerous cells by 25 percent, and because of the synergistic effects, the group receiving both experienced a 70 percent decrease in cancerous cells.

"We didn't see any harmful effect," Fang said. "So that's why we think compared with chemicals, drugs, this really has a lot of advantage.

He said blueberry extract will be beneficial because of it's multiple effects. 

"In this study, we emphasize that you need to use radiation first, and adding blueberry is going to help you to get a better treatment," Fang said. "The reason's that blueberry adding to radiation can inhibit proliferation of cancer cells, and promote death, or apoptosis, of cancer cells."

The next step for Fang and his team is studies on mice and eventually human trials.