A nine-year research project has led to a breakthrough in cancer research.
Researchers have determined how the Warburg effect, a phenomenon in which cancer cells rapidly break down sugars, stimulates tumor growth.
The new study, published in leading academic journal Nature Communications, clarifies the link between sugar and cancer. According to one of the study authors, Professor Johan Thevelein, the research revealed how hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells led to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth.
“The link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain,” he said.
The discovery provides evidence for a positive correlation between sugar and cancer which may have a far-reaching impact on tailor-made diets for cancer patients.
Yeast cell research was essential to the discovery as the cells contain the same Ras proteins commonly found in tumour cells which can cause cancer in mutated form.
Using yeast as a model organism, Thevelein and colleagues studied the connection between Ras activity and the highly active sugar metabolism in yeast.
In lay terms, the scientists discovered that the yeast that had an overactive influx of glucose cause the Ras proteins to activate too much which would then allow the cells to grow at an accelerated rate.
“The main advantage of using yeast was that our research was not affected by the additional regulatory mechanisms of mammalian cells, which conceal crucial underlying processes,” said Thevelein. “We were thus able to target this process in yeast cells and confirm its presence in mammalian cells.”
Thevelein was however careful to note that this research, while important, could only be regarded as one step closer to a larger process.
“Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells.”