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November 15, 2005

Natural sugar could hold the key to fighting cancer

Topics: Health Issues

sweet_6.gif[Commercial preparations of heparin vary widely in their ability to prevent blood clots, in which strands of fibrin (yellow) form a meshwork and trap red blood cells in a clump.]

Researchers have found that injections of a sugar related to the common anticlotting drug heparin can sharply inhibit tumor growth in mice. They also found that different forms of heparan sulfate had sharply different effects on tumor cells. One form of the sugar actually speeded growth of the tumors and caused the cancer to spread throughout the body. Another related sugar, by contrast, slowed the growth of virulent skin and lung cancers. In unpublished work, the same antitumor effect was found in mouse prostate cancer. It isn't necessary to inject the tumor itself as the sugar appears to "home in" on the tumor.

It appears that the different forms of heparan sulfate (sugars) attach to different proteins depending on their structure. Those proteins, in turn, regulate (signal) cancer proliferation. There are probably several dozen cancer-inhibiting proteins, only a handful of which have been discovered to date. This research is exciting because it shows for the first time in mice that complex sugars can block the development of blood vessels by jamming these signals.

Related reading: The Sweetest Thing

Posted by at November 15, 2005 3:41 AM

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