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Taiwan Researchers Claim Cancer Therapy Alternative

Taiwan researchers said Thursday they have successfully tested 10 new sugar-fat compounds they believe will inhibit cancer growth while prolonging patients' survival time with limited side effects. The new compounds were created by a team led by Dr. Wong Chi-huey, president of Taiwan's highest academic research body, the Academia Sinica, and an expert in the structure and function of sugars.

"This is an innovative strategy in cancer treatment. So far, most anti-cancer drugs are associated with side-effects like nausea and hair loss," said Alice Yu, who led a team to validate the compounds. "But the new (compounds) are expected to cause few side-effects as they are designed to enhance immunity rather than attack cancer cells." The new compounds are an improvement on one called a-Galcer, which was discovered in Japan in 1995.

At least 10 of the new compounds had proved effective in experiments with mice, Academia Sinica said. The study showed that lung cancer-bearing mice treated with the new compound had significantly prolonged survival time compared to those treated with a-Galcer, the research institute said in a statement. The Japanese research did not go beyond a phase I trial because while A-Galcer was found to enhance immunity by helping some proteins, it also damaged other proteins, thus suppressing immune functions.

Overall the anti-cancer results were weak. However, Taiwan's experiments showed that mice treated with the new compounds for six weeks appeared to be in better health. In breast cancer-bearing mice, treatment with the new compounds had inhibited tumor growth in 75 percent of the group, compared to 50 percent inhibition of tumor growths in mice treated with a-Galcer.

Encouraged by the experiments, Dr. Chang Ya-jen, another researcher involved in the study, said the new compounds could be used to manufacture drugs that would "provide an alternative therapeutic approach" to cancer management in the future. "They could signal a new ray of hope to cancer patients because such drugs could not only extend their survival time but also improve their life quality while battling with cancer," she said.

The study's results have been published in an online early edition report of the US' PNAS (Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences). Yu said it may take up to 10 years for completion of clinical experiments that would precede mass production of a new cancer therapy drug. Academia Sinica has applied for patent rights here and abroad for the special compounds.


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