Sun, Jul 31, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Gene deficiency might link alcohol with cancer

SLOW POISON:Medical researchers said the long-term accumulation of acetaldehyde, which is metabolized by ALDH2, can increase the risk of developing cancers

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

A group of medical researchers from Taiwan and the US found that about half of Taiwanese have an aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 family (mitochondrial), or ALDH2, deficiency, which might link alcohol consumption to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer.

The second Taiwan-Stanford Symposium on ALDH2 Deficiency and Human Diseases was held at Taipei Medical University yesterday, which was attended by about 100 medical researchers from Taiwan, Japan and the US.

Alexander T.H. Wu (吳駿翃), an associate professor at the university’s doctoral program for translational medicine, told the symposium that the ALDH2 gene plays a critical role in metabolizing alcohol.

When alcohol enters the body, it is first broken down by alcohol dehydrogenase, a group of enzymes, into acetaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen, and ALDH2 can convert acetaldehyde into acetic acid radicals, he said.

If an individual lacks ALDH2 to metabolize acetaldehyde, the long-term accumulation of the chemical compound in the human body can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers, Wu said.

He said consuming an average of two glasses of red wine per day can increase the risk in people with ALDH2 deficiency of developing cancer in head and neck areas, with a more than 50-fold increase in the chance of developing esophageal cancer, as well as increasing the incidence of other types of cancer.

He said studies have suggested that up to 47 percent of Taiwanese lack ALDH2, which is possibly the highest rate in the world, compared with about 35 percent in China, about 30 percent in Japan and about 20 percent in South Korea.

If people with ALDH2 deficiency consume moderate amounts of alcohol, they can suffer symptoms such as severe flushing (also known as “alcohol flush reaction,” which is a result of acetaldehyde accumulation in the body), impaired bodily functions, headaches, nausea and heart palpitations.

A study led by National Taiwan University College of Medicine director Wu Ming-hsien (吳明賢) found that ALDH2 deficiency is also linked to increased chances of developing digestive tract cancers, suggesting that people with ALDH2 deficiency who often consume alcohol should regularly undergo an endoscopy.

An international memorandum of understanding was signed between Taipei Medical University and Stanford University to develop small-molecule medicines that increase the activity of the ALDH2 gene.

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