One pink grapefruit a day will keep the doctor away, says Massud Shoja, an associate professor of Chemistry. That is because pink grapefruits have an abundance of flavones, natural antioxidants that fight cancer and other serious illnesses. Shoja has been studying the crystal and molecular structures of flavones since 1987, in the hopes that his research will be a piece in the puzzle that helps bio-medical researchers find a cure for cancer. “Researchers want to know why these flavonoids works on certain carcinogenic hydrocarbons and not others,” Shoja said. “I’m giving them a powerful tool, an array of flavone structures to work with.
Eventually, we will find the proper medication to cure cancer.” Most recently, Shoja has been researching the significance of planar (flat) and non-planar (twisted) flavones. His work has appeared in journals such as Zeitschrift for Kristallographie and Acta Crystallographica, international crystallography publications, with two articles scheduled to appear this spring. Flavoids are found in fruits, vegetables and other edible plants. When ingested, they work as antioxidants, anticarcinogenics and as anti-inflammatory agents. Their biological effects depend primarily on the structure and relative orientation of the different segments of the molecule.
Various flavones are commonly used to treat ulcers, dissolve blood clots and for other medical purposes. When cancer-causing molecules get into the bloodstream, the body releases enzymes that dissolve them and draw them out of the body. However, sometimes the same enzymes can cause cancer-causing hydrocarbons to interact with the body’s macromolecules, such as DNA, initiating the spread of cancer. Flavones can stop this process. Shoja uses X-ray crystallography to determine the relative flatness of the flavones.
Molecular biologists then research how the structures impact cancerous cells and other illnesses. In this case, he found that the way the crystal molecules pack together impacts the structure of the flavone. “By measuring the degree of flatness of these molecules, we can determine their potential use for cancer treatment or as inhibitors for the cell growth of different kinds of cancer,” Shoja said.