A vegetable famously hated by children contains a compound that may assist the treatment of childhood leukaemia, research suggests.
Laboratory tests showed that sulphorophane, found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, can kill acute lymphoblastic leukaemia cells.
Scientists exposed leukaemia and healthy cells originating from children to a purified form of the compound.
While many of the cancer cells died, the healthy cells were unaffected, the researchers reported in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.
Experiments with mice yielded similar results.
Study leader Dr Daniel Lacorazza, from Bayor College of Medicine in the US, said: "Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a type of cancer of the white blood cells common in children.
"There is about an 80% cure rate, but some children don't respond to treatment. For those cases, we are in need of alternative treatments."
He said the compound worked by entering cells and reacting with certain proteins.
His team believes that after further research sulphorophane could one day become a leukaemia treatment option alongside other therapies.
The researchers are now trying to determine which proteins are affected by the compound and how. This work may identify new molecular targets that could apply to other forms of cancer as well.
Children who may feel pressured to eat large quantities of broccoli need not worry.
"Sulphorophane is a natural product," said Dr Lacorazza.
"However, what we used in this study is a concentrated purified form. So while eating cruciferous vegetables is good for you, it will not have the same effect as what we saw in the lab."