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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 00:08 GMT
Sugar 'may help in cancer fight'
Image of breast cancer cells
The sugar works by stopping blood vessels forming
Natural sugars could hold the key to fighting cancer, a study says.

An Association for International Cancer Research team found a complex natural sugar from the glucose family can block the growth of tumours in tests on mice.

The sugar molecules work by inhibiting hormones tumours send out to make blood vessel grow, which tumours need if they are to thrive.

Cancer experts believe a sugar-based treatment could be used to halt tumour growth before it becomes dangerous.

The technique uses a complex natural sugar called heparin, the Clinical Cancer Research journal reported.

During the tests on mice, the sugar molecules were divided and purified before being injected into the mice.

Dr Jayson's 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
Kat Arney, of Cancer Research UK

While it is only effective if the cancer is diagnosed early because it does not reduce the size of tumour, researchers said the technique may prove to be an effective treatment when combined with other cancer therapies.

Dr Mark Matfield, scientific consultant of AICR, said: "If someone has cancer, it has often spread so what you may find is that this treatment could be used once the initial tumour has been removed.

"It could be used to stop the cancer cells developing when they have spread. But we will have to see how it develops in future trials."

Lead researcher Professor Gordon Jayson, based at Manchester's Christie's Hospital, said clinical trials could start in the next two years.

Dr Kat Arney, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Cancers depend on a supply of oxygen and nutrients, and they trick the body into growing new blood vessels by sending out chemical signals.

"Dr Jayson's 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.

"Because adults don't normally need to grow new blood vessels, this discovery could lead to a highly specific and effective treatment for many types of cancer.

"However, this research is still at an early stage and it will be essential to develop these sugars further and test their actions in patients."


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