Sat, Mar 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Researchers crack cancer mystery

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Academia Sinica Genomics Research Center distinguished research fellow Lee Wen-hwa, second left, Academia Sinica Genomics Research Center assistant research specialist Hu Chun-mei, center, and other members of Lee’s team pose yesterday in Taipei.

Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times

Abnormal sugar metabolism has been found to be a key cause of pancreatic cancer, a team of Academia Sinica researchers and National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) physicians said yesterday.

The team was led by Academia Sinica Genomics Research Center distinguished research fellow Lee Wen-hwa (李文華), a former president of China Medical University in Taichung.

To gain a better understanding about the cancer, the researchers spent five years on the project in collaboration with NTUH doctors Chang Yu-ting (張毓廷), Chang Ming-chu (章明珠) and Jeng Yung-ming (鄭永銘), as well as Academia Sinica Institute of Chemistry director Chen Yu-ju (陳玉如), Lee told a news conference in Taipei.

The pancreas produces hormones to regulate blood sugar and enzymes to help digest food, center assistant research specialist Hu Chun-mei (胡春美) said.

Pancreatic cancer has been dubbed the “king of cancers” due to its late diagnosis and high fatality and recurrence rates, she said, adding that the team has confirmed the relationship between sugar and pancreatic cancer, which was only hinted at in previous studies.

Ninety-five percent of pancreatic cancer cases are pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas, of which 80 percent are related to diabetes, but the causation was not clear before, Hu said.

In biopsies provided by the doctors, the team found that normal pancreatic tissue under diabetic conditions has a significantly higher prevalence of mutation of the gene KRAS, which is known to enhance cancer cell growth, she said.

After feeding mice food with a high concentration of sugar, the researchers observed genetic mutations in their pancreatic cells, but not in the cells of mice eating high-fat or high-protein food, Hu said.

When there is an excessive amount of glucose in pancreatic cells, a glycosylation process begins that affects certain cells tasked with repairing genes, she said.

Pancreatic cells might be damaged when blood sugar concentration is high, even before a diabetes diagnosis, she added.

The team detailed its findings in a paper titled “High glucose triggers nucleotide imbalance through O-GlcNAcylation of key enzymes and induces KRAS mutation in pancreatic cells” published in the journal Cell Metabolism on Thursday.

People should avoid consuming too much sugar to protect their pancreas from damage caused by abnormal metabolism, Lee said, adding that more precise therapies against pancreatic cancer could be developed in the future.

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