Difficulties with most of the chemotherapeutic drugs emanate from their concurrent eradication of normal healthy cells, including those responsible for immunity. Tumor cells grow and replicate more rapidly than normal cells. This is because they are better equipped to receive glucose, a good source of energy for fast replication. Also, cancer cells quickly develop a network of blood vessels (angiogenesis) to ensure an efficient supply of nutrients and oxygen. This is partly why cancer patients lose weight; the cancer cells rapidly take up nutrients meant for normal cells. Furthermore, with chemotherapy cancer cells develop resistance to the drugs, rendering chemotherapy useless and futile after a period of remission.

Cancer cells smartly find a way of protecting themselves from the damaging effects of drugs. They generate what is called the ABC transporter superfamily, which transports a variety of substrates including amino acids, sugars, inorganic ions, polysaccharides, peptides, and proteins into the cells. In cancer cells, a member of this superfamily, called the multidrug resistant (MDR) protein, is overexpressed and helps to pump drugs out of the cancer cells, making the cancer cells simultaneously resistant to a variety of drugs. Thus, the cancer cells are protected from the toxic effects of drug combinations.

The anti-cancer properties of custard apple appear to be mainly due to a class of compounds called acetogenins. T hroughout the 1990s, a team of researchers lead by Professor Jerry McLaughlin at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, and another team at Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaoshiung Taiwan had evaluated the structure and anti-cancer properties of acetogenins.

To date, over 400 acetogenins have been identified and currently the Annonaceae remain a “hot’ family for the discovery of new anti-cancer therapeutic agents. Chinese and Taiwanese universities have successfully synthesized a range of these acetogenins.

Bullatacin, isolated from the fruit of custard apple, is one of the most potentially effective antitumor acetogenins. Bullatacin is 258 times more cytotoxic against breast cancer cells than adriamycin.

The Annonaceae family also shows excellent anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity from the essential oils of leaves, flowers and fruit.

Few fruits have the wide range of bioactivity exhibited by custard apple fruit even those that are already considered superfruits such as blueberry and pomegranate. Even though there have been limited animal and human studies, custard apple fruit appear to be have excellent health and medicinal benefits which deserve to be further explored. Compared with other fruits, custard apple could be classed as one of the new super fruits.

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