Sugar found to help halt esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer is the eighth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and the fifth biggest in the United Kingdom so any new tools that enable doctors to detect and help fight it is probably more than welcome; which is exactly what this news from scientists working at the Medical Research Council will be.

It seems that one of our most common items may actually be able to help doctors detect a type of esophagus cancer called Barrett’s syndrome and remove the cancer cells.

As reported in the journal Nature Medicine that by using sugar researchers have been able to identify cancer cells during the cancer stage referred to as dysplasia, which is the time frame during which the cancer can be prevented by removing the cells.

The problem faced by doctors is being able to correctly identify those areas since they can be easily missed during endoscopy and biopsy. This can lead to a false sense of assurance for patients as well as unneeded treatments for those patients without dysplasia.

The researchers discovered a new mechanism for identifying Barrett’s dysplasia cells by spraying on a fluorescent probe that sticks to sugars and lights up any abnormal areas during endoscopy. By analyzing the sugars present in human tissue samples taken from different stages on the pathway to cancer — using microarray technology developed by NYU’s Mahal — they found that there were different sugar molecules present on the surface of the pre-cancerous cells. This technology uses sugar binding proteins, known as lectins, to identify changes in sugars and pinpointed carbohydrate binding wheat germ proteins as a potential diagnostic. When the wheat germ proteins, attached to a fluorescent tag that glows under a specific type of light, were sprayed onto tissue samples, it showed decreased binding in areas of dysplasia, and these cells were clearly marked compared with the glowing green background.

via Science Daily

This new discovery is especially important as the number of cases of esophageal cancer has been on the rise in recent years and doesn’t look to be decreasing anytime soon.