URBANA, Ill. -

Researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that celery, artichokes, herbs, and Mexican oregano, all contain flavonoids that kill human pancreatic cancer cells in the lab.

Those flavonoids, named apigenin and luteolin, worked by inhibiting an important enzyme, causing the cells to essentially self-destruct.

"Apigenin alone induced cell death in two aggressive human pancreatic cancer cell lines. But we received the best results when we pre-treated cancer cells with apigenin for 24 hours, then applied the chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine for 36 hours," said Elvira de Mejia, a U of I professor of food chemistry and food toxicology.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths.  It's an aggressive cancer with few early symptoms, making it especially difficult to treat.

Although the research is encouraging, don't expect to see piles of celery and artichokes at cancer centers any time soon.  Researchers said pancreatic cancer patients would probably not be able to eat enough flavonoid-rich foods to reap the rewards, but scientists could potentially design drugs that would create the same effect.

The findings do support the idea that certain foods may help reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

"If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables throughout your life, you'll have chronic exposure to these bioactive flavonoids, which would certainly help to reduce the risk of cancer," de Mejia said.