Posted August 28, 2017

Muse for cancer-fighting tomatoes study? Italian food

Antonio Giordano, who led the study that showed whole tomato extracts can slow the growth of stomach cancer, says Italian cuisine inspired him to investigate the dietary staple’s cancer-fighting ability.

Antonio Giordano holding a pipette, surrounded by tomatoes in a lab
Photography By: 
Ryan S. Brandenberg
Antonio Giordano, founder and director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization at Temple, led the research that identified two varieties of whole tomato extract that inhibit the growth of gastric cancer cells.
For his latest research discovery—which showed that certain tomato extracts can slow the growth of gastric cancer—Antonio Giordano’s muse was simple: the food back home.
“What inspired me was my country, Italy,” said Giordano, a world-renowned researcher specializing in cancer and genetics and director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization housed at Temple’s College of Science and Technology. “The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the main reasons why that population has more longevity and lower rates of certain types of cancer.”
Giordano, along with a team of scientists from Temple, the University of Siena in Italy and the National Cancer Institute of Naples in Italy, conducted blind tests on seeds from various species of tomato. The tests showed that two varieties, San Marzano and Corbarino, slowed the growth of gastric cancer cells by blocking the molecules involved in cell division. Though components of tomatoes, such as the antioxidant lycopene, have been studied in the past, Giordano’s research was unique in that it used whole tomato extracts.
“We chose gastric cancer because it is one of the most aggressive types of tumors of which there is little knowledge,” Giordano said. “There are not many therapies.” 
His challenge now that he’s demonstrated the ability of the tomato extracts is to explore whether the same varieties of tomato grown outside of specific regions in Italy will maintain those cancer-fighting properties. His team is now growing the tomatoes in Philadelphia and other areas of the country to test seeds germinated in U.S. soil.
“The environment can change the properties,” Giordano explained. “The soil where they grow [in Italy] has a particular richness of minerals, is very watery and is close to Mount Vesuvius, so there is a volcanic type of presence there. That can be a major change in the impact.” 
Giordano said he also plans to study the effects of food preparation and cooking on the tomatoes’ ability to fight cancer and, eventually, to explore their effects on other types of cancer, including colon, breast and prostate, as well as on neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The study’s implications have the potential to be far-reaching—for development of both supplements to current cancer treatments and lifestyle changes aimed at cancer prevention. 
“The research suggests that this kind of nutrient in general has the ability to protect our cells in our body,” Giordano said. “That is actually the major discovery.”
—Morgan Zalot and Eryn Jelesiewicz