Manchester scientists funded by Cancer Research UK believe that a type of sugar could form the basis of a new kind of anti-cancer drug.
The researchers believe that complex sugar molecules, called heparin oligosaccharides, have the potential to tackle cancer by cutting off a tumour’s blood supply and starving it of oxygen.
Speaking at a conference1, lead researcher Dr Gordon Jayson from the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research will describe how he and his team have successfully used the sugar molecules to treat lung cancer cells in the lab.
Like the body’s normal cells, cancer cells need a supply of oxygen and other nutrients to survive and grow. Cancer cells get these nutrients by sending out a complex set of chemical instructions telling the body to produce new blood vessels.
Experts believe that they can treat patients by halting this process, which they call angiogenesis.
Dr Jayson explains: “When a tumour forms, it tricks the body into feeding it by growing a network of blood vessels.
“Our laboratory studies show that these sugar based molecules can stop cancer’s chemical trickery and halt the development of blood vessels.
“The next step is to find out whether it will have the same effect in patients.”
The Department of Medical Oncology at the Paterson Institute hosts one of the most important centres devoted to researching drugs of this type, called anti-angiogenesis drugs.
This concentration of expertise and state of the art equipment means that, once the drug is ready to be used in patients, Dr Jayson and his team will be able to carefully monitor the activity of the compound within patient’s bodies and visualise its effects on the tumour.
Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical Research for Cancer Research UK, says: “Dr Jayson’s research on this molecule looks very promising but the true test will be whether it is also effective in patients.
“This type of treatment is currently a very promising lead in cancer research and scientists at the Paterson Institute are at the forefront of this pioneering work.”
- Cancer Research UK Institutes Conference, University of Warwick, 23 – 25 March, 2003
Cancer cells produce a chemical called heparan sulphate which activates a chemical messenger called FGF-2. Activated FGF-2 then encourages the body to grow blood vessels.
The researchers believe that complex sugar based molecules (heparin oligosaccharides) block the interaction between heparan sulphate and FGF-2, stopping the development of blood vessels.