Previously, research has demonstrated that rapid cancer cell division demands higher levels of sugar than healthy cells and so the question is often asked, does sugar cause cancer? The characteristics of a healthy cell compared to a cancer cell is the sugar dependency that the cancer cells desires, making sugar reduction an appropriate treatment for killing cancer cells. However, treatment by this method has often proved ineffective as not all cancer cell types respond in the same way. Furthermore, while sugar reduction may kill cancer cells, in some cases, it may merely halt its growth and spread.

Scientific study

A Singapore team under Duke-NUS Associate Professor Koki Itahana and a team, led by Dr. Egon Ogris of the Max F Petutz Laboratories (MFPL), in Austria have for the first time identified how reduction of sugar consumption had caused cancer cell death. They identified something known as a novel cell death pathway.

Glucose and its Novel Role

Sugar does not cause cancer, but it has been the view for a long time that it was one of the main sources of energy for cancer cells. The Singapore led study found that small amounts of sugar provided adequate amounts of energy, ensuring the survival of cancer cells. This has meant that another role of sugar has been found outside of providing energy, which is helping cancers cells to grow. One of the findings from the study was that deprivation in sugar consumption causes a trigger voltage difference across cancer cell membranes, leading calcium ions into the cancer cells and consequently, cell death.

A Therapeutic Novel Approach

The team discussed that the newly discovered property of sugar in cancer cells may be used for to better understand the relationship between cancer and sugar. By combining sugar reduction and an increase in calcium levels in cancer cells, the team managed to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Itahana and her team also found that cancer cells often lost their ability to maintain intracellular sugar levels after they’ve had sugar level reduction and that this may be the reason that not all cancer cells respond to this way of treatment. Ultimately, it may be a way forward to combine treatments to cancer cell types, which would be a novel treatment combination against cancer. The team hopes that their results will develop a new future of cancer treatment.

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Source: Duke-NUS Medical School