walnut research

Ahn Pham and John Kim conducted walnut research at SJSU. Today, Pham is working in the biotechnology industry. Kim is in a doctoral program at the University of Southern California (Dillon Adams photo).

Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748

San Jose, CA–Walnuts are part of a Mediterranean diet and have been shown to reduce heart disease and are potentially able to fight cancer. Yet as much as science has revealed about the health benefits of walnuts, which components of walnuts are responsible for these effects has remained a mystery.

Researchers at San Jose State University, in collaboration with scientists at North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute, have now identified compounds that show anti-cancer effects in human breast cancer cell models.

The research study, “Cytotoxic Effects of Ellagitannins Isolated from Walnuts in Human Cancer Cells”, was published online in September (Volume 66, Issue 8) in the scientific journal, Cancer and Nutrition.

Student opportunities

A team of undergraduate students at SJSU in the labs of Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Brandon White and Professor of Chemistry Roy Okuda conducted the study characterizing the effects of the compounds on various breast cancer cells. Mary Grace, a senior researcher in Mary Ann Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, provided purified compounds that were used in this study.

“Not only is this research beneficial to human health, it has also given students at SJSU an opportunity to work in the cancer biology field,” Professor White said.

These students received hands on training from Professors White and Okuda as part of their educational experience at SJSU.  Working in the lab has helped these students go on to working in biotech, doctoral programs, and pharmacy school.”

The student researchers were Vy Le, ’14 Biology; Danny Ha, ’14 Biology; Anh Pham, ’12 Biology; Anthony Bortolazzo, ’14 Biology; Zackery Bevens, ’14 Biology; and John Kim, ’12 Chemistry.

Valuable insight

Walnuts are the second largest nut crop in the United States, which produces over 900 million pounds annually with a production value of more than $1 billion. The U.S is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts. Walnuts are also sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and antioxidant compounds associated with heart health.

“Identifying which compounds are active individually or synergistically will provide valuable insight into understanding their mechanisms of action. By gaining a better understanding of the unique properties of walnuts and how they promote human health, researchers may one day be able to target certain ailments by recommending consumption of walnuts,” Professor White said.

The California Walnut Commission provided funding support for this research project.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.