A new US study suggests that resveratrol, a compound present in grape skin and red wine, could help treat several cancers.

Researchers at the University of Missouri (UM) School of Medicine found the compound made melanoma cells more susceptible to radiation treatment.

The findings follow earlier similar findings from UM that showed resveratrol sensitizes prostate cancer cells to treatment.

The researchers now want to find a way to use the compound to treat a variety of cancers. One of the challenges is finding a means to deliver the compound into tumors.

Senior investigator, Michael Nicholl, assistant professor of surgery at the MU School of Medicine, says:

"Because of difficulties involved in delivery of adequate amounts of resveratrol to melanoma tumors, the compound is probably not an effective treatment for advanced melanoma at this time."

He and his colleagues report what they found when they lab-tested the effect of resveratrol on two radio-resistant melanoma cell lines, in a recent issue of the Journal of Surgical Research.

The findings show that treatment with resveratrol on its own killed 44% of melanoma tumor cells.

But when treatment combined resveratrol with radiation, 65% of the melanoma tumor cells died.

The team hopes these results will now spur other investigations into how resveratrol might be used to fight cancer.

Prof. Nicholl says:

"We've seen glimmers of possibilities, and it seems that resveratrol could potentially be very important in treating a variety of cancers."

He says he thinks it hinges on how successful researchers are at getting the compound into tumors. For example, using it to treat melanoma is complicated by the way melanoma cells travel throughout the body. But he also adds that:

"... we envision resveratrol could be combined with radiation to treat symptomatic metastatic tumors, which can develop in the brain or bone."

When more studies have been done and show the same level of success, then officials at MU will be asking for federal authority to start developing an investigative new drug for testing in human clinical trials.

So the timescale for a possible drug based on resveratrol is several years away.

In the meantime, Prof. Nicholl does not recommend patients try to treat themselves by using over the counter resveratrol supplements.

A study published recently in The American Journal of Pathology warns against using resveratrol supplements for treating multiple sclerosis.