'Food is powerful': Cancer research growing in small garden at KU Cancer Center

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Something growing at the University of Kansas Cancer Center could be a game-changer when it comes to killing disease.

And there's one question at the root of Dr. Shrikant Anant's research.

"How can we use food as a way to prevent cancer both from happening for the first time, as well as coming back?" asked Anant, associate director of the KU Cancer Center.

His research is fueled by a garden growing in the Cancer Center.

"If you don't have a well balance diet, it really hurts us," Anant said, "and that is the reason why we have many kinds of diseases today."

"Food is powerful," said Dr. Jill Hamilton-Reeves, co-director of Nutrition Shared Resources.

She's seen patients benefit from fighting cancer with the right food, food that works well with the drugs doctors prescribe.

"Food makes a big difference," Hamilton-Reeves said. "We need fuel, and we need the right kind of fuel to be as healthy as possible to withstand the things that we do to kill the cancer cells."

Hamilton-Reeves said the research in the garden hasn't been put into practice at the hospital quite yet, but the hope is to one day see clinical trials that could lead to a cure for different types of cancer.

"This garden is the beginning," Anant said. "It's the beginning of something beautiful."

So far, Anant's findings show compounds in plants protect you from different cancers. One of those compounds is curcumin, found in the spice turmeric.

"We are trying to figure out how can we increase the absorption of that compound in your stomach, so that it can go to the different parts of the body," Anant said, "and if there's a cancer there -- kill it."

His team focuses on common cancers that affect people in Kansas and Missouri.

"So we have plants that we have picked, which have specific properties to protect from colon, pancreas, liver, breast, lung cancers and things," Anant said.

Research takes trial and error, effort and "thyme," but if it helps at least one person, he said it's worth it.

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