Scientists from Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore have isolated a prebiotic from a tomato that can inhibit the growth of gastric cancer cells. A prebiotic is a specialised plant fibre that beneficially nourishes good bacteria already present in the large intestine or colon. The scientists extracted pectic oligosaccharides, a class of prebiotics, from a sour raw tomato that has potential use in therapies for gastric cancer.

Gastric or stomach cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the lining of the stomach. It is the second leading cause of death due to cancer in India, after tobacco related cancers.

Gastric cancer cells use a specific protein called galectin 3 to grow and spread to multiple organs. A strong therapy against gastric cancer will have to focus on how to suppress the activity of galectin 3. In a study published in the journal Carbohydrate Polymers, the research team showed how they extracted pectic oligosaccharides from raw tomato and treated gastric cancer cells with it. They compared the anticancer activity of the prebiotic with that of anticancer drug doxorubicin.

The tomato prebiotic reduced the levels of the protein galectin 3 three-fold in the gastric cancer cells. Both the drug and prebiotic slowed cancer growth. However, normal cells were not affected by the tomato prebiotic as opposed to the toxic collateral effect of the anticancer drug, making the prebiotic more effective, the staudy said.