Senior Kendra Royston Eats Broccoli, Wins Award
It is easy to imagine Stillman College Biology major Kendra Royston bent over a Petri dish, feeding broccoli extract to laboratory cells. But once she begins to explain her award-winning science project, things get complicated fast. Her explanation is laced with words like methyl-transferases, histones, Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, Sulforaphane, and isothiocyanate. For the scientifically challenged, she attempts to describe her research in more digestible terms. She explains that Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is found in green tea, while Sulforaphane (SNF) is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. As a result of her research on the impact of broccoli and green tea in breast cancer treatment, Kendra won first place in both the University of Alabama at Birmingham SIBS (Summer in Biomedical Science) Poster Competition and the MHRC (Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center) Poster Competition. Although understanding her scientific terminology may be challenging, her research is far too important to ignore.
"My goal was to determine if the incorporation of EGCG and SFN through dietary consumption of cruciferous vegetables and green tea would make current breast cancer chemotherapies more effective. Through this research I expected to find decreases in breast cancer cellular proliferation and viability after treatments with EGCG and SFN," states Kendra, who was mentored by UAB MERIT Scholar Dr. Tabitha Hardy at Dr. Trygve Tollefsbol's lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"There are breast cancer treatments that work well for estrogen receptor (ER) positive cells, but there are not many effective treatments for breast cancer cells that are not estrogen receptors—cells that are estrogen receptor negative. So we decided to look at these ER negative cells," Kendra states. "When cells are ER negative, breast cancer patients are unable to utilize treatments that target ER positive cells. But previous studies have shown that the dietary compounds in green tea and in broccoli may reactivate Estrogen Receptive expression in breast cancer cells, which means the ER negative cells become ER positive."
The reactivation of estrogen receptor cells is critical in the treatment of breast cancer. When estrogen cells are reactivated, breast cancer prognosis is improved as the cancer can be treated with hormone target-directed therapies. Kendra's research confirms past studies indicating that current chemotherapies for breast cancer may benefit from the incorporation of green tea and broccoli in the diet because these compounds reactivate ER expression.
Pointing to a series of photos taken over a 3-day period, Kendra notes the steady and obvious decrease in expression of breast cancer cells when treated with EGCG and SFN, and notes how the cells begin to resemble normal cells after being fed these compounds.
Her study compared the chemical response to EGCG and SFN in both African American derived breast cancer cells and Caucasian derived breast cancer cells, and found that the green tea and broccoli treatment was particularly effective in the African American cells.
Kendra, who serves as Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President of External Affair, Trombone Section Leader for the Blue Pride Marching Band, and Vice President of the Delta Sigma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. plans to continue to pursue her scientific studies in graduate school or in medical school.
"Findings show that we're going somewhere. We're looking at finding a better treatment for breast cancer. We're on the right track," Kendra says, "So eat broccoli and drink green tea."
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