Popular artificial sweetener may treat aggressive cancers

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New York, March 24 (IANS) Once considered as a possible carcinogen, the artificial sweetener saccharin could actually lead to the development of drugs capable of combating aggressive, difficult-to-treat cancers with fewer side effects, new research has found.

“It never ceases to amaze me how a simple molecule, such as saccharin — something many people put in their coffee everyday — may have untapped uses, including as a possible lead compound to target aggressive cancers,” said Robert McKenna from University of Florida.

The finding were presented at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Denver.

The new work examined how saccharin binds to and deactivates carbonic anhydrase IX, a protein found in some very aggressive cancers. It is one of many driving factors in the growth and spread of such cancers in the breast, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas and brain.

Carbonic anhydrase IX helps regulate pH in and around cancer cells, allowing tumours to thrive and potentially metastasise to other parts of the body.

Because of this finding, the researchers wanted to develop saccharin-based drug candidates that could slow the growth of these cancers and potentially make them less resistant to chemo- or radiation therapies.

Except for in the gastrointestinal tract, carbonic anhydrase IX is normally not found in healthy human cells. According to McKenna, this makes it a prime target for anti-cancer drugs that would cause little or no side effects to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour.

McKenna’s team is currently testing the effects of saccharin and saccharin-based compounds on breast and liver cancer cells. If successful, these experiments could lead to animal studies.

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