A little soy a day can keep the doctor away

Researchers have known for some time that replacing animal protein with soy protein can dramatically reduce the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL), sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol. A Virginia Tech researcher has discovered that total vegetarianism may not be necessary to reduce levels of the harmful cholestrol.

Raga Bakhit, of the department of human nutrition, foods, and exercise, discovered that replacing even a part of the animal protein in your diet with soy can significantly lower LDL levels. She has performed in-vitro research that proves the ability of anti-oxidants from soy protein can reduce the amount of LDL oxidized. Oxidized LDL has been identified as a major factor leading to arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Recently, Bakhit began human trials. She is also doing research on laboratory animals to identify the antioxidant effect of soy on LDL.

Bakhit and her team also are working on soy product development, producing food items such as muffins, breads, and cookies that contain high amounts of soy protein yet still taste good.

Bakhit also has published recently on the effect of soy protein on blood hormones and lipid profiles in postmenopausal women.

Researchers building new molecules to fight cancer

Virginia Tech faculty members Karen Brewer in chemistry and Brenda Shirley in biology, and their students, are building new molecules to act as anticancer agents.

The aim is to develop molecular systems to counter cancer's ability to develop immunity to anticancer drugs and to help physicians focus their attack on cancer cells.

"We are building a new type of molecule that binds to DNA in new and different ways," says Brewer. "Tumors develop resistance to drug systems by changing or eliminating sites where drugs have been able to attach to the tumor. By changing the shape and the size of the molecule carrying the drug and the way the drug binds to DNA, we can continue to design systems that are effective against resistant tumor lines."

Early screening of the new molecules by the National Cancer Institute show that the new molecules do bind to the target DNA and have some anticancer activity, Brewer reports.

Anticancer drugs such as chemotherapy often make people sick because, while the drugs are killing cancer cells, they are also damaging healthy cells.

Brewer, Shirley, and their students are designing drugs that would become active only when hit by light. Surgery would not be required because a low-level laser would deliver light in the near-infrared range through the skin to the tumor site. The light would activate the engineered molecules to bind to the DNA of the cancer cells and deliver killing drugs.

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