Vitamin D Shows Potential in Natural Chemotherapy

April 29, 2010 - News Release

The anti-cancer action of vitamin D is one step closer to being understood, thanks to work by a University of Guelph professor.

By lowering the activity of a protein called MARRS, a receptor or "gatekeeper" for vitamin D signalling, Prof. Kelly Meckling of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences has shown that breast cancer cells become hypersensitive to the nutrient and are easier to kill.

Vitamin D, a nutrient essential for bone health, protects against certain types of cancer and even multiple sclerosis when taken for a long period. Now Meckling’s research on breast cancer cells holds promise to use vitamin D as a form of natural chemotherapy, too.

By altering cell MARRS levels, it changes how the tumour cell divides and makes that cell easier to target. Her findings were published recently in the journal Experimental Cell Research.

“It looks like in breast cancer cells, down-regulation of MARRS has a positive therapeutic benefit when using vitamin D strategies,” she said. “The tumours that have the MARRS knockdown actually grow faster than tumours that have normal MARRS. But then when you come in with vitamin D therapy as an anti-tumour agent, those tumour cells die really, really quickly.”

Meckling has been working with vitamin D since the early 1990s, before it hit the equivalent of rock-star status in the nutrition world. But it was only five years ago that MARRS was discovered, and U of G is one of only a handful of labs working on this protein.

She said her research shows that MARRS probably plays a pivotal role in determining cell fate. Vitamin D therapy, working through MARRS, could be used to treat other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and psoriasis.

“That’s why I think MARRS research is so cool,” said Meckling. “It doesn’t just have to be cancer.”

Prof. Kelly Meckling
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
519-824-4120, Ext. 53742 or 53728

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

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