SUGAR COULD BE the answer for cheaper, simpler and faster cancer diagnosis. Dublin researchers are developing new scientific tools capable of detecting the tiny amounts of sugars produced by cancer cells. "We have found that there are alterations in sugars attached to proteins in blood serum from all cancers we have looked at and some of these appear to be early markers of the disease processes," says Rudd, who is leading the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (Nibrt) Dublin-Oxford Glycobiology Laboratory in UCD.
"What is more, we have been able to isolate several sugar-linked variants of particular proteins which are associated with different types of cancer, including prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and breast cancers," she says. Cancer cells also use sugars to hide from the body's immune system so that they can travel from the primary site to seed new cancers in other organs, a process called metastasis. This means that the levels and types of sugars produced can also be used to monitor disease progression and how the patient is responding to therapy, she says.