Welcome to biology-online.org! Please login to access all site features. Create an account.
Log me on automatically each visit
Biology Articles » Biochemistry » Carbohydrate Biochemistry » Can A Spoonful Of Sugar Treat Cancer?
A leading Yorkshire scientist is trying to develop new drugs by
synthesising different forms of the special sugars found in cancer
cells. Now, with support from the Association for International Cancer
Research (AICR), Dr Robert Falconer will be using his discovery to
search for new molecules to stop disease spread.
Dr Falconer, a Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry based in the
Institute of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Bradford
explains: "On the surface of cancer cells there is a long molecule,
called polysialic acid, which is made up of about 200 identical simple
sugars linked together.
"Polysialic acid has been found on the surface of a number of
different human cancers. When these cancer cells start to spread, they
appear to get more polysialic acid on their surface. We believe that
this helps these cells 'unstick' from their neighbouring cells, so they
can start invading the surrounding tissues and moving away from the
"Our idea is quite simple. If we can stop these cancer cells making
so much polysialic acid, they won't find it so easy to spread. Cancers
that don't spread, or only spread slowly, are less dangerous and are
easier to cure."
Dr Mark Matfield, AICR's scientific adviser says the surface of
cells carries a complex mixture of proteins and sugars. "In the past,
most scientific attention has been directed at the differences in the
proteins but Dr Falconer is particularly interested in the differences
in the sugars found on cancer cells.
"The long molecules of polysialic acid are built up by adding one
simple sugar, called sialic acid, at a time to the growing molecule. Dr
Falconer will use altered versions of the sialic acid molecule to block
the enzymes that build these long polysialic acid molecules."
Dr Falconer has already made several variations of the normal sialic
acid molecule. He will chemically synthesise many other different
varieties of these unnatural sugars and, with colleagues at the
Institute, will test their ability to block the enzymes that build
Initially, these tests will be carried out using purified versions
of these enzymes. Those molecules that are found to block polysialic
acid synthesis will then be tested directly on cancer cells growing in
the laboratory, to make sure that they have the same effect on the
cells. The final stage of the project will be to find out if these
molecules, which stop cancer cells making polysialic acid, also stop
the cells moving and spreading.
Derek Napier, AICR Chief Executive, says the charity has awarded a
three-year research grant of £142,000 to Dr Falconer, which should
enable him to identify a number of molecules that block cancer cell
spreading. "This is an exciting project and is given in line with
AICR's policy of funding the most novel approaches to research
"However, there will need to be further analyses and testing --
taking several more years - before it is known whether these molecules
will make effective drugs to help treat cancer."
rating: 3.75 from 4 votes | updated on: 27 Sep 2008 | views: 2159 |
share this article | email to friends
suggest a revision
print this page
© Biology-Online.org. All Rights Reserved. Register | Login | About Us | Contact Us | Link to Us | Disclaimer & Privacy