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Research / Discovery

Cancer researcher looks at disease prevention properties of rice bran

June 29, 2010

Colorado State University was recently awarded $147,000 from the National Institutes of Health and $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to find out how varieties of rice bran differ in their interaction with probiotics and how rice bran in the diet may reduce growth of intestinal cancers and protect against infectious diseases.

Simulates the immune system, some anti-cancer activities

To date, there is limited information about how bran from different varieties of rice may reduce intestinal cancer risk and help fight intestinal infections, although scientists know that rice bran has some anti-cancer activities and that it can stimulate the immune system.

Elizabeth Ryan (right), a researcher in Colorado State’s Animal Cancer Center, and a team of researchers at CSU will study the chemical properties of rice bran and how its ingredients may impact health. These studies encompass rice varieties from around the world, and the researchers suspect that they may find that some varieties have higher anti-cancer and immune boosting benefits than others.

Primary source of food across globe

“Rice is a primary source of food for almost half of the world’s human population,” Ryan said. “Three major subspecies of rice are grown worldwide, and while scientists have learned from studies that rice bran may play an important role in immunity or preventing and controlling intestinal cancers, only minimal attention has been paid to how bran from the different rice types can impact those findings.

"Rice bran naturally contains protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, phospholipids, essential fatty acids and more than 120 antioxidants, cofactors and catalyses that may reduce cancer risk and help the immune system. But concrete scientific efforts are needed to evaluate which varieties produce the maximum health benefit. With that information, agriculture can focus on growing rice with the most benefits.”

Study dogs with cancer

As part of the studies, Ryan will look at how different varieties of rice bran (right) interact with naturally occurring probiotics. The study will use dogs with cancer who will be treated at the Animal Cancer Center and healthy dogs as a control group. The dogs are used with permission of their owners.

Cancer in dogs is naturally occurring, making it more similar to cancer in humans than cancer studies using laboratory mice, although dogs are not often used to study nutrition and cancer risk.

Rice bran is a waste byproduct used mainly as animal feed. About 76 million metric tons of rice bran are produced globally each year, making it available and affordable as a potentially healthy ingredient that can be added to the food supply.

Research team

Both the NIH and Gates Foundation grants focus on looking at rice bran. Ryan is stationed in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Tiffany Weir, a researcher in CSU’s department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, is a co-investigator on the NIH grant. The Gates Foundation funding includes Jan Leach with the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and Dr. Steve Dow, a veterinarian and researcher also with the Animal Cancer Center.

The NIH award is from the National Cancer Institute Cancer Prevention program, and the Gates Foundation is a Grand Challenges Exploration in Global Health grant.

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009