A type of sugar that destroys honeybees may be useful in the battle against cancer.


Researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys and the Osaka International Cancer Institute have discovered that mannose, a sugar that is known to be deadly to honeybees, can stop the growth of cancer cells in people. This finding raises the possibility of using mannose as a secondary cancer treatment.

The head of Sanford’s Human Genetics Programme and research co-author Hudson Freeze remarked, “This sugar could give cancer an extra punch alongside other treatments.” “And since mannose is naturally present throughout the body, it could enhance cancer treatment without causing any unfavourable side effects.”

Anticancer characteristics
In a process known as glycosylation, the organism attaches mannose, a form of sugar, to proteins to help stabilise their structure and facilitate more effective molecular interactions. Scientists have long known that abnormalities in this mechanism might result in uncommon but potentially fatal disorders, but mannose’s anti-cancer capabilities have not been investigated.

“Up until now, congenital disorders of glycosylation—diseases that can cause a wide range of severe symptoms throughout the body—have been the most promising therapeutic use for mannose,” according to Freeze. “However, we think there might be ways to use mannose to combat cancer and other illnesses as well.”

Focus of Research
Scientists focused on a peculiar impact mannose has on honeybees in order to get a better understanding of its anti-cancer effects.

“Honeybee syndrome” refers to the knowledge that mannose kills honeybees since they are unable to digest it as people do. This has been known for more than a century. Our goal was to determine if the anti-cancer qualities of mannose and honeybee syndrome are related, since this might result in a whole different strategy to fight cancer, according to Freeze.

What the investigators discovered
The researchers recreated the honeybee syndrome using genetically modified human cancer cells from fibrosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects connective tissues. They found that in the absence of a particular enzyme required to metabolise mannose, cells replicate more slowly and are more susceptible to chemotherapy.

This might account for mannose’s anti-cancer effects by causing honeybee syndrome, which prevents cancer cells from synthesising DNA and preventing them from replicating correctly.
While taking advantage of honeybee condition may prove to be a viable adjunctive cancer therapy, further investigation is required to identify the cancer types most susceptible to this kind of sugar.

“Using mannose to treat cancers that have low activity of the mannose-processing enzyme may provide just the right amount of stimulation to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy,” Freeze said. “Many people think that the discovery of a treatment always happens in reaction to the disease, but sometimes the biology that could lead to a treatment is found, and the disease has to match it.”

“There is still much to learn about the glycobiology of sugar metabolism within cancer cells, and there may be a wealth of potential treatments hiding there, waiting to be found,” he said in closing. The research has been published in the eLife journal.

Further on mannose
As the most basic kind of carbohydrate that cannot be hydrolyzed further into smaller compounds, mannose is a type of sugar molecule that is a member of the group of substances known as monosaccharides. The monosaccharides fructose and glucose are other prevalent ones.

Mannose plays a key role in human metabolism, especially when it comes to the glycosylation of certain proteins. Glycosylation is the process by which a lipid or protein is linked to a carbohydrate, such as mannose. The protein or lipid’s behaviour and function may change as a result of this transformation.

The function that mannose plays in urinary tract health is one of its noteworthy qualities. According to some study, D-mannose, a kind of mannose, may cling to certain bacteria, such E. coli, and stop them from adhering to the urinary tract walls and causing infections. D-mannose is thus sometimes used as a supplement to promote urinary tract health.

Furthermore, the body may utilise mannose to make mannose-6-phosphate, a substance that is needed for lysosomal metabolism. Certain lysosomal storage disorders may result from deficiencies in the synthesis or utilisation of mannose-6-phosphate.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer for Earth.com


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