Scientists are trying to unlock Nova Scotia’s famous apples for their health benefits, probing whether molecules extracted from the peel could be used to treat cancer.

"The results so far [are] very encouraging, both in the experiments we have done using cancer cell lines, as well as one experimental model that we've done using mice," said Vasantha Rupasinghe, a Canada Research Chair in fruit bioactives and bioproducts

Apples plucked from the sprawling orchards across the Annapolis Valley are sent to a laboratory in Truro where scientists combine extracted apple peel molecules with fish oil molecules. They say the new substance is unique in the world.

"This is the molecule we've been testing against various cancers," Rupasinghe said. 

Dalhousie University applying for patent

Some of the funding for the work comes via the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute, which is dedicated to cancer research in Atlantic Canada.

"There's a lot of world-class work being done in your neighbourhoods: Moncton, Halifax, St. John's, Fredericton," said the institute's chairman, Chris MacDougall. "It opened my eyes."

Dalhousie University has applied for a worldwide patent for the combined molecule.

It's also looking for a pharmaceutical company to help move the research forward.

The researchers say there’s a long way to go before anyone can say whether their research can help battle cancer.

More animal experiments are needed before the study can advance to human trials.