Scientists in VIB, KU Leuven and Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium said that they have made a breakthrough in researching the link between sugar and cancer. They found that yeast with high levels of glucose overstimulated the proteins often found in tumors inside people, making cells grow faster.
The study, conducted by Johan Thevelein, Wim Versées and Veerle Janssens, aimed to discover how sugar contributed to cancer development, USA Today reports. They began researching the association of sugar to cancer in 2008 in order to examine the so-called Warburg effect. This is when tumor cells make energy by rapidly breaking down glucose that is not present in normal cells, increasing tumor growth.
The study “is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness,” says Thevelein of KU Leuven, adding, “This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus.”
However, more study needs to be done to determine if shifting to a low-sugar diet will help cancer diagnoses. “The findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect,” Thevelein says. “Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells.”
Victoria Stevens, a cancer researcher with the American Cancer Society, comments that while the results may be helpful, it is only “about one product made during the breakdown of glucose to produce energy.” “They are providing a potential way (the Warburg effect) could be a cause of cancer, but they are a long way away from saying this could actually happen,” Stevens, who was not involved in the study, adds.
VIB is a research institute that works with five universities, funded by the Flemish government.
The study was published in Nature Communications.