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$450,000 sweetener in colon cancer battle

UK-based Association for International Cancer Research this week announced it will fund a Griffith University project led by Dr Joe Tiralongo to further develop a potential anti-cancer treatment that had shown promising results in lab tests.

The grant will enable the team to test a range of new 'designer' compounds on tumours in living cells.

Research leader Dr Joe Tiralongo of Griffith's Institute for Glycomics, Queensland said the compounds target a unique sugar, sialic acid, believed to give cancer cells their deadly ability to spread through the body.

"A significant number of studies have shown a consistent link between the amount of the sugar sialic acid on the surface of cancer cells, and the ability of that cancer to metastasise, or spread to other parts of the body," he said.

Sialic acid is found in cells throughout the body, giving, for example, saliva its characteristic stickiness, but it is abnormally expressed on cancer cells.

"It exists in much greater numbers on the surface of cancer cells. You could almost describe it as a 'glue' that helps cancer cells bond to other cells throughout the body," Dr Tiralongo said.

"We are working to tailor an 'inhibitor' that will block the mechanism that enables cancer cells to express this sugar on its surface."

"If progression can be slowed and the cancer contained to one part of the body, it becomes a lot easier to treat with surgery."

He said while colon cancer was the primary target, the team would also screen inhibitors against other aggressive cancers, including breast cancer and neuroblastoma.

"These cancers all over-express sialic acid, so in theory what works for one cancer could work for others.

Colon cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer, with one in 18 Australian men and one in 26 women affected.

Australian National Health and Medical Research Council reports patients with a localized colon cancer have an 88 % chance of survival, however this drops to just seven per cent when the cancer has spread to other organs.

Association for International Cancer Research Scientific Co-ordinator Dr Mark Matfield said preventing tumours from spreading would be a new way of treating cancer by controlling it.

"It is the ability of cancer to spread around the body which makes it fatal," he said.

"It would not cure it but, in most cases it would make a cure unnecessary because a non-spreading tumour would not be a significant health problem."


Contact: Jeannette Langan
Research Australia

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