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Eating rhubarb baked in a crumble is not only tasty it may also be the best way to take advantage of its health benefits, and could lead to the development of new cancer treatments.  

Researchers have found that baking British garden rhubarb for 20 minutes dramatically increases its levels of anti-cancerous chemicals. The findings from academics at Sheffield Hallam University, together with the Scottish Crop Research Institute,were published in the journal Food Chemistry.

These chemicals, called polyphenols, have been shown to selectively kill or prevent the growth of cancer cells, and could be used to develop new, less toxic, treatments for the disease, even in cases where cancers have proven resistant to other treatments.

Academics are now hoping to use the results to study the effect of rhubarb's polyphenols on leukaemia. They aim to discover the best combination of polyphenols and chemotherapy agents to kill leukaemia cells, even those previously resistant to treatment.

 It is the first time the benefits of British garden rhubarb, specifically a variety grown in South Yorkshire, have been studied. Previous research has focussed on Oriental medicinal rhubarb, which has been recognised for its health benefits and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

Dr Nikki Jordan-Mahy, from Sheffield Hallam's Biomedical Research Centre, said: "Our research has shown that British rhubarb is a potential source of pharmacological agents that may be used to develop new anti-cancerous drugs".

"Current treatments are not effective in all cancers and resistance is a common problem. Cancer affects one in three individuals in the UK so it's very important to discover novel, less toxic, treatments, which can overcome resistance."

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