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Soybean peptide may inhibit cancer cell growth, offers anti-inflammatory properties.

Soy flour, derived from ground soybeans, boosts protein, brings moisture to baked goods, and is a source of quality soy protein, dietary fiber and bioactive components, such as isoflavones. And now, it is being harnessed in the fight against cancer and chronic disease.

Lunasin is a peptide in soybean seeds shown to inhibit the growth of certain cancerous cells in laboratory tests. It's also being investigated for anti-inflammatory properties that might help in the battle against some chronic diseases. But obtaining sufficient amounts of this prospective cancer-fighter has been difficult. This has impeded lunasin's investigation in large-scale animal and human clinical trials.

Now, however, USDA-ARS scientists have devised a rapid technique for extracting lunasin in amounts suitable for conducting clinical trials. The researchers were able to produce 3.2 grams of concentrated lunasin, along with two protease inhibitors, from 100 grams of soybean flour. The actual extraction is done with a 30% solution of ethanol, followed by centrifuging steps, and the addition of calcium chloride to further purify the concentrate.

The entire process takes less than two hours and yields far more lunasin and protease inhibitor concentrate than other methods, including chromatography procedures and live cultures of genetically modified yeast or bacteria. Besides being faster, the new method can easily scale-up to yield larger amounts.

The strategy focuses on isolating soy protein extract that is highly enriched in lunasin and protease inhibitors--proteins with well-established roles in cancer prevention. Test-tube experiments conducted by the researchers also demonstrated the extract's biological activity. It inhibited the production of inflammation-causing cytokines by human leukemia cells derived from a line called THP-1, which is commonly used in biomedical research.

Lunasin may work by turning off genes that enable cancerous cells to divide and spread to new sites. In 2013, University of Illinois researchers published the results of a USDA-funded study in which feeding cancer-injected mice 20 milligrams of lunasin daily per kilogram of body weight reduced the number of tumors in the rodents' livers by 94%. Trials with a larger sampling of mice are needed to better analyze those results.

Further information. Hari B. Krishnan, USDA-ARS Plant Genetics Research, Room 108, Curtis Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211; phone: 573-882-8151; email:

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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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