Could Broccoli Sprouts Help Treat Type 2 Diabetes?


The next big diabetes drug may have been sitting in the salad bar all along. Researchers say concentrated broccoli sprout extract could be an excellent tool for regulating blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes (T2D). They published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists have been interested in broccoli sprout extract (BSE) for some time now. The active ingredient, a compound called sulforaphane (SFN), has already been tested as a potential treatment for a number of conditions, including cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nobody had considered SFN for diabetes before. The authors of the current study weren’t even considering it. They had just been looking for existing drugs that matched T2D’s genetic signature. Out of 3852 different compounds, just a few possible leads emerged. The most promising among them was SFN.

The researchers took that lead and ran with it. They tested the compound’s effects on the liver and blood sugar in not one, but a whole bunch of settings, starting with computer models of genes, then moving to liver cells cultured in the lab, then mice and rats.

The results of each experiment informed the next one—and the results were promising. SFN seemed to reduce glucose production in liver cells and change T2D gene expression in rats.

Finally, the researchers moved into testing the drug on people. They recruited 103 obese people with hard-to-manage T2D at a Swedish hospital and tested how well each person’s body metabolized glucose. For 12 weeks, study participants took a daily dose of either BSE concentrate or a placebo. They watched for other symptoms or side effects and monitored their blood sugar as usual. Two weeks later, the researchers checked the participants’ glucose tolerance again.

The results were as encouraging as the previous experiments’. Patients who took the drug saw significantly decreased blood sugar levels without any serious side effects. And, the authors write, “SFN also protects against diabetic complications such as neuropathy, renal failure, and atherosclerosis in animal models because of its antioxidative effects.”

Before we all get too excited, there are a lot of caveats to consider.

“High doses of BSE cannot yet be recommended to patients as a drug treatment but would require further studies,” the authors write, “including data on which groups of patients would potentially benefit most from it.”

That’s for sure. All of the experiments we describe here were small. All of the rats and mice, and 75 percent of the human participants, were male. All 97 humans who completed the study were Swedish, obese, and between the ages of 35 and 75, and all the women involved were postmenopausal. And study participants took refined BSE. They didn’t just eat broccoli sprouts.

How the Hubble Space Telescope Helped the Fight Against Breast Cancer

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

The beauty of scientific research is that scientists never really know where a particular development might lead. Research on Gila monster venom has led to the invention of medication that helps manage type 2 diabetes, and enzymes discovered in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park are now widely used for DNA replication, a technique used by forensic scientists to analyze crime scenes.

The same rule of thumb applies to NASA scientists, whose work has found dozens of applications outside of space exploration—especially in medicine.

Take the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, the Hubble has graced us with stunning, intimate photographs of our solar system. But it wasn't always that way—when the telescope was launched, the first images beamed back to earth were awfully fuzzy. The image processing techniques NASA created to solve this problem not only sharpened Hubble's photos, but also had an unexpected benefit: Making mammograms more accurate.

As NASA reports, "When applied to mammograms, software techniques developed to increase the dynamic range and spatial resolution of Hubble's initially blurry images allowed doctors to spot smaller calcifications than they could before, leading to earlier detection and treatment."

That's because the Hubble Space Telescope contains a technology called Charge-Coupled Devices, or CCDs, which are basically electron-trapping gizmos capable of digitizing beams of light. Today, CCDs allow "doctors to analyze the tissue by stereotactic biopsy, which requires a needle rather than surgery," NASA says [PDF]. Back in 1994, NASA predicted that this advancement could reduce national health care costs by approximately $1 billion every year.

And that's just one of the tools NASA has developed that's now being used to fight breast cancer. When cancer researcher Dr. Susan Love was having trouble studying breast ducts—where breast cancer often originates—she turned to research coming out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As Rosalie Chan reports for the Daily Beast, the Jet Propulsion Lab has dedicated vast resources to avoiding the spread of earthly contaminants in space, and its research has included the development of a genomic sequencing technology that is "clean and able to analyze microscopic levels of biomass." As Dr. Love discovered, the same technology is a fantastic way to test for cancer-linked microorganisms in breast duct tissue.

A second technology developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory—the Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector, or QWIP—enables humans to see invisible infrared light in a spectrum of colors, helping scientists discover caves on Mars and study volcanic emissions here on Earth. But it's also useful at the doctor's office: A QWIP medical sensor can detect tiny changes in the breast's blood flow—a sign of cancer—extremely early.

And as any doctor will tell you, that's huge: The earlier cancer is detected, the greater a person's chance of survival.

A Nursing Home in China Offers Recent Grads Cheap Rent in Return for Spending Time With Seniors

One of the most overlooked problems people face as they age is isolation. Loneliness touches one-third to one-half of the elderly population, and it can have tangible effects on their physical and mental wellbeing. One retirement home in China is combating this issue by inviting young adults to keep residents company in exchange for discounted rent rates, Sixth Tone reports.

Sunshine Home, a privately run, state-funded senior living center in Hangzhou, China, welcomed about a dozen 20-somethings into the facility this past July. Costing just 300 yuan, or about $44, a month, the home is an affordable option for many recent college graduates looking to start their careers in the city. As part of the deal, they're asked to spend at least 20 hours a month with the elderly tenants, either by reading to them, chatting, showing them how to use their smartphones, or leading classes.

The arrangement is a win-win for both age groups: Young residents get an inexpensive place to live and the seniors get companionship they may not have had otherwise. Sunshine Home, which was built last year, still needs to fill about 1400 of its 2000 beds.

Most senior living facilities don't share this problem with Sunshine Home. Elderly populations are booming around the world, including in China, and many nursing home are struggling to make room for the influx of new residents. Whether the model is able to succeed on a wider scale is still to be determined, but Sunshine Home's project has received mostly positive feedback from participants so far.

Young people don't necessarily need to share a home with lonely seniors to offer them companionship. Teenagers volunteering through the California-based nonprofit Forget Me Not keep older adults company by chatting with them on the phone.

[h/t Sixth Tone]