PUBLISHED: 7:50 PM on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Lab testing reveals oyster fats 'starve' breast cancer tumors
For centuries oysters have been famous as an aphrodisiac, and recent science bears that out. Now, there is even more exciting news - oyster fats, called ceramides, appear to fight breast cancer.

When oyster ceramides were introduced to breast cancer cells in lab tests, the fats appear to fight the cancer by blocking the blood supply to the tumor and preventing it from growing.

"It's sort of a fancy way of saying it starves the tumor off," said Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute. "The body of evidence is leading researchers toward the conclusion that ceramides are a successful agent in fighting cancer."

The research was done on lab rats as part of a Sea Grant project at Louisiana State University. The LSU researchers also found that oyster fats used in clinical trials helps speed the healing process for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The LSU work is an example of how seriously researchers are regarding the role that foods play in cancer prevention.

"We've known for a long time that oysters are a food rich in iron and good fats. It's only now that we are beginning to see their full potential to fight disease," said NFI dietitian Jennifer Wilmes.

News of the emerging research comes amid National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (and National Seafood Month). According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women.

Back to libido, research chemists in Miami and Naples, Italy, discovered last year that raw oysters, mussels and clams contain two unique amino acids that prompt the release of sexual hormones. Oysters also are loaded with zinc, a key nutrient for testosterone production in both men and women.

In Alaska, roughly 50 oyster growers operate farms in Southeast and South central regions. In all, they produce about one million oysters each year.

"They could triple production and not keep up with the demand all year," said Rodger Painter of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association.

Hooking endorsements

Alaska fishing groups came out strongly in an endorsement of Sen. Ted Stevens. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation's largest fishing group, and its 37 membership groups represent nearly every fishery, from small salmon setnetters to huge Bering Sea catcher/processors and crabbers. UFA gave its endorsement last week to candidates vying for seats in nearly all of Alaska's house and senate districts, as well as national offices. The votes are made via roll call and a two-thirds majority must prevail, said UFA executive director Mark Vinsel.

"Nobody has done more for fisheries in the North Pacific in our lifetime than Sen. Stevens, and we will continue to recognize that," Vinsel said.

UFA did not endorse either of the two candidates vying for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives - namely, Republican Don Young, who has held the seat for more than 35 years, or Democratic challenger, Ethan Berkowitz.

"We interviewed both candidates and both have some support on the UFA board, but neither was able to garner the two-thirds support level needed," Vinsel explained.

Likewise, UFA did not endorse either of the presidential candidates.

"No, UFA has never made an endorsement in a presidential election," Vinsel said.

UFA is encouraged that there seems to be more recognition by state policy makers of the important role the fishing industry makes to Alaska, Vinsel said. The first issue UFA will be addressing when the Alaska legislature convenes in mid-January is energy and fuel prices for fishing operations. UFA will also work to expand eligibility for the state engine retrofit loan program. (

Surveys take on water

Starting next year, annual surveys of halibut stocks will also monitor ocean conditions from Oregon to the farthest reaches of the Bering Sea. The expanded assessments are made possible by a $500,000 federal grant by NOAA Fisheries.

'We are very excited," said Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. "We have tried for this funding for 8 years because we have this incredible density of survey stations." The IPHC has had oversight of U.S. and Canada halibut stocks since 1923.

The money will be used to purchase 14 ocean profiler systems on IPHC survey vessels, Leaman said.

"We have about 1,200 stations that we occupy every year and it represents an incredible opportunity for observations of the ocean. And since we already have the platforms out there in the form of our survey vessels, I think NOAA was convinced that it was a good investment," Leaman said.

The survey system that has long been used for stock assessments ties in perfectly with water column profiling, he added.

"Samples will include data on florescence, which is essentially chlorophyll production and pH (acidity), temperature depth, salinity and dissolved oxygen. We will be using that to characterize the environment for halibut, but the information will also go into the national ocean data base so it is readily available to all other ocean and fisheries researchers," Leaman said.

The ocean profile and halibut stock surveys will be conducted from June through August, and the first data will be available next fall.