An Unlikely Combatant of Cancer: Rice?

There’s nothing better than a good bowl of rice — at least in my opinion. I’m a huge rice fiend. Whether it’s sushi rice with perfectly sliced fish or some flavorful dirty rice on Bourbon Street, it always seems like it’s a fantastic addition to any dish. Soon we may have a new reason to add rice to our diet — scientists have found that it might help prevent cancer.

Using Rice for Cancer Treatments

Rice probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think about cancer treatments — unless, of course, you’re talking about RICE — the acronym for 4 drugs used in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But now, researchers in Mumbai have found that three varieties of actual rice grains — gathwan, maharaji and laicha — have some anti-cancer properties.

These three particular breeds of rice are not used for standard planting. Instead, these three are stored in the rice germplasm bank which is managed and preserved by the IGKV (Indira Ghandi Grishi Vishwavidyalaya). They are used primarily for research and plant breeding purposes.

These three strains of rice have been used in the past for their medicinal properties. Gathwan, for example, has been used to cure arthritis in some villages and Laicha is used for treating skin problems.

In a lab setting, it has been observed that these three strains of rice not only prevent the multiplication of cancer cells in the body without affecting healthy cells, but they can also fully destroy those same cancer cells.

In Mumbai, it is very possible that these three rice breeds could soon be used for the treatment of lung and breast cancer.

Clinical Trials and FDA Approval

To bring this kind of groundbreaking treatment to the United States, it will take more than just amazing lab results. It will have to show the same sort of results in FDA-regulated labs in the United States, and then will need to pass each stage of a cancer clinical trial.

A cancer clinical trial is broken up into 5 to 6 stages. The first stage is the preclinical research — this is where the lab work comes into play. If a new treatment or drug doesn’t show promise in the lab, that’s where it stops.

Some clinical trials even have what is known as Phase 0 — where the drug is tested on a small selection of human patients. This is really just to determine whether the drug will work in humans as it does in the lab. This phase is usually skipped in cancer clinical trials, however, and the next step is Phase 1.

Phase 1 of the clinical trial tests the safety of the new drug or treatment on a small number of healthy volunteers. This is where researchers can start to understand how the drug is metabolized, and whether or not there are any dangerous side effects. Phases 0 and 1 would likely be fairly obsolete with rice testing — we already know much about how the human body metabolizes rice, and know that it is not particularly dangerous.

Phase 2 tests the efficacy of the drug and will usually involve several hundred participants. In this phase, patients will be split into two groups — test and control. The test group receives the new drug while the control group receives a placebo.

Phase 3 is the largest phase, involving thousands of patients and many blind tests, where the doctors aren’t aware of who is receiving the drug and who is receiving the placebo. This large scale test gives researchers a better idea of how effective the drug is going to be, and whether or not there are any adverse reactions that weren’t detected in the preceding two phases. This is the final testing phase of a trial — if the drug passes this trial, it is then marketed to the public.

For rice testing, Phases 4 and 5 would likely see a group studied over time with a heavier rice diet, while another group doesn’t eat rice, or perhaps eats less of it? It will be difficult to determine exactly how to control external factors in a test as simple, yet complex, as this one.

Phase 4 is the post marketing trial — this is where researchers can monitor the effects of their medication on a large scale while it is still able to help the patients who need it most. It also becomes the best tool for measuring the effectiveness of the drug, even after months or years of testing.

The cancer fighting rice theory has a long way to go if it is to be determined as a real, effective treatment in the United States — but the test results in India could be a promising start. It will be interesting to see how this pans out and whether or not scientists choose to further study this phenomenon.