Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has
received $20 million to study the effects of muscadine grape extract (MGE) on
prostate and breast cancers. The gift by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous
is the largest ever received by the Medical Center.
The principal investigators of the multidisciplinary
study are Patricia Gallagher, Ph.D., and Ann Tallant, Ph.D., professors in the
Hypertension and Vascular Research Center and the Department of Cancer Biology
at Wake Forest Baptist. The research will involve 26 faculty members from
multiple disciplines, including hypertension and vascular research, hematology
and oncology, cancer biology, urology, radiology, public health sciences, radiation
biology and pathology.
John D. McConnell, M.D., chief executive officer of Wake
Forest Baptist, said the gift is an example of how philanthropy makes a
difference for an academic medical center, and not necessarily because of the
“We are extremely grateful for this generous
philanthropic support of our researchers, our Medical Center and our mission,
to improve health,” McConnell said. “This demonstrates the role that
philanthropy plays for us. This gift was made by an individual who believes in
our institution and has a passion for making a profound difference in the lives
and health of others.
“While the amount of this gift is historic for us and
provides a remarkable opportunity, the work we do as a leading academic medical
center would not be possible without support of all kinds from our community
and those who believe in what we do.”
The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia Michx.), which is native to the southeastern
United States and was the first native grape species to be cultivated in North
America, is a rich source of polyphenols, a type of potent antioxidant. The
specific type of MGE being studied by Wake Forest Baptist scientists is a new
formulation not commercially available that was developed by Nature’s Pearl
Corp. of Advance, North Carolina.
This five-year gift will fund three clinical trials: a
Phase I trial to determine toxicity of the extract in patients with solid
tumors, and two Phase II trials, one in men with prostate cancer and one in
women with triple negative breast cancer, to determine the effect of the extract
on reducing metastatic growth and on quality of life issues.
In addition, the gift will support a preclinical study
(animal model) on the treatment of breast cancer with MGE; preclinical studies to
determine the molecular mechanisms for the reductions in tumor growth; the
effect of co-administration of the extract with radiation and chemotherapeutics
commonly used to treat breast and prostate cancer; and the effect of the
extract on co-morbidities, which are often present in patients with prostate
and breast cancer.
“This generous gift is transformative in that it allows
us to develop an all-inclusive study to determine the potential benefits of
this kind of muscadine grape extract for the treatment of these two cancers,”
In previous studies, Gallagher and Tallant investigated
the effect of muscadine grape extract on the growth of human cancer cells in
the laboratory, including lung, breast, glioblastoma, melanoma, prostate,
leukemia and colon. The scientists found that the extract inhibited the growth
of the cancer cells tested by 40 to 50 percent.
More importantly, in a prevention study, female mice
engineered to develop breast cancer had reduced tumor formation after drinking
the extract (a dose equivalent to about 10 tablespoons for an average-sized man)
for seven months. In a lung cancer model of fetal exposure, the tumor burden
also was decreased by 50 percent in the female offspring but not in the males
after drinking the extract for a year. In both mouse models, the muscadine
grape extract reduced the number of blood vessels feeding the tumor.
“A gift of this magnitude can dramatically accelerate the
pace of this promising research,” said Edward Abraham, M.D., dean of the Wake
Forest School of Medicine. “We are more likely to see clinical trials in place
much sooner because of this investment, and any potential benefits that may be
identified would be passed along to patients sooner than would otherwise be