Synthetic version of broccoli compound is potential treatment for osteoarthritis

  • April 27, 2015


A synthetic and stable form of a chemical found in broccoli could be used as a potential treatment for osteoarthritis after positive results from a study at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London.

Recent research has found that eating cruciferous vegetables such as sprouts,
cabbage and especially broccoli, can ease the symptoms of the chronic joint
condition. This is because of a compound called sulforaphane which is released from
the vegetable matter upon digestion. Tests have shown that the substance blocks
certain enzymes that destroy the joint cartilage and also processes that cause the
inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

Sulforaphane can be derived from eating broccoli, but patients would have to
consume substantial amounts on a daily basis to significantly alleviate any
symptoms of the condition. Formulating sulforaphane into a medicine has also
proved difficult as it is an unstable molecule rendering it impossible to manufacture
into a regular pill format.

But UK pharmaceutical company, Evgen Pharma, who worked in collaboration with
the RVC for this experiment, has synthesised a stable version of sulforaphane and
incorporated it into a medication called Sulforadex (SFX-­‐‑01). A single dose of the
product provides as much sulforaphane as eating around 2.5kg of broccoli in a single

The RVC trial is the first time SFX-­‐‑01 has been tested as a treatment for osteoarthritis
in a laboratory setting on live osteoarthritis prone mice. The initial findings are
extremely encouraging according to Professor Andrew Pitsillides who is Professor
of Skeletal Dynamics at the RVC.

The results found the osteoarthritic mice treated with SFX-­‐‑01 had significantly
improved bone architecture, gait balance and movement in comparison to an
untreated sample group.

Professor Pitsillides said: “These initial results are very positive for such an
experiment and we have convinced ourselves that sulforaphane is a promising agent
for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

“However, the clinical development of sulforaphane has been held back by the fact
that it is inherently unstable. Thus, SFX-­‐‑01 is a major advance in this area.”
Previous research studies have suggested that sulforaphane has anti-­‐‑cancer and anti-­‐‑
inflammatory properties and human trials are already underway in these areas. But
as SFX-­‐‑01 is now seen as a viable treatment for arthritic joints, further pre-­‐‑clinical
testing and then human clinical trials are now needed.

Professor Pitsillides added: “Nearly nine million people in the UK have
osteoarthritis and it costs the NHS more than £5 billion every year. There is no cure
or effective treatment for the disease other than pain relief or joint replacement, so
the potential for SFX-­‐‑01 is massive.”

The data from the experiment will be presented by the RVC team at the 4th Joint
Meeting of European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS) and the International Bone and
Mineral Society (IBMS) in Rotterdam on Sunday 26th April. Professor Pitsillides is
also now looking to expand the experiments and publish the results in peer
reviewed journal.