How Sugar Fuels Cancer Growth
Belgian scientists have reported a breakthrough in understanding how sugar fuels cancer.
The findings, reported in the journal Nature Communications, help unravel what has been a scientific mystery to medical researchers; precisely how sugar makes tumors grow faster.
The new understanding could help lead to new ways to combat cancer, through diet and other modifications of sugar intake.
The research team led by Johan Thevelein, Wim Versées and Veerle Janssens, has been studying sugar’s link to cancer for nearly a decade. They, and other scientists, have determined tumor cells grow by rapidly breaking down glucose (a form of sugar), a phenomenon known as the “Warburg Effect.”
But the new research determined precisely how.
The Belgian team found that yeast with high levels of glucose overstimulate proteins often found mutated inside human tumors, making cells grow faster.
“[The study] is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg Effect and tumor aggressiveness,” Dr. Thevelein, from KU Leuven in Belgium, said in a release.
“This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus.”
He added that follow-up research is needed to prove that eating a low-sugar diet could help prevent or combat cancer.
“The findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg Effect,” Dr. Thevelein said. “Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells.”
Victoria Stevens, a cancer researcher with the American Cancer Society who was not involved in the study, says the research is a “a small step in a long process,” but could have significant implications.