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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007, 11:36 GMT
Sweet success in disease research
Bowel cancer cell
Researchers hope to use the technique to treat bowel cancer
Scientists have found that a spoonful of sugar not only helps the medicine go down, but also gets it to work.

A team from Leeds University has worked out how to use the natural plant sugar xylan, combined with a bacterium in the human gut, to treat bowel disorders.

Prof Simon Carding found that by eating the sugar a patient can "switch on" the bacterium which helps fight inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

He is now looking at using the same technique to treat bowel cancer.

Existing drugs produced by the body's own bacteria and viruses must be delivered non-stop, which is sometimes counterproductive, Prof Carding said.

Cancer hope

His new technique allows the patient to control the timing and size of the dose, solving a major problem with treatments that use bacteria and viruses to deliver the drug.

Prof Carding has modified one of the trillions of bacteria in the human gut to produce human growth factors which help repair the layer of cells lining the colon, so reducing inflammation caused by IBD.

He has also adapted the bacterium so it only activates in the presence of xylan, which is found in tree bark.

"The human gut has a huge number of bacteria, and this treatment simply adapts what's there naturally to treat the disease," he said.

"We're already looking at using the same technique for colorectal [bowel] cancer, as we believe we could modify the bacterium to produce factors that will reduce tumour growth.

"Treatment of diseases elsewhere in the body might also be possible as most things present in the gut can get taken into the bloodstream."

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