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Just a Spoonful of Sugar …


A new study in Nature Medicine shows the utility of sugar in the early detection of esophageal cancer, reports ScienceDaily. Researchers at the Medical Research Council in the UK and at New York University are studying how a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus develops into esophageal cancer. Using a fluorescent probe sprayed into patients' throats, the team was able to highlight differences in the surface glycans, or sugar molecules, of the cells that line the esophagus, to tell the difference between healthy cells and cells that are possibly pre-cancerous, ScienceDaily says. This could help doctors detect or remove these suspect cells before they develop into full-blown cancer. "By analyzing the sugars present in human tissue samples taken from different stages on the pathway to cancer … they found that there were different sugar molecules present on the surface of the pre-cancerous cells," ScienceDaily says. "This technology uses sugar binding proteins, known as lectins, to identify changes in sugars and pinpointed carbohydrate binding wheat germ proteins as a potential diagnostic. When the wheat germ proteins, attached to a fluorescent tag that glows under a specific type of light, were sprayed onto tissue samples, it showed decreased binding in areas of dysplasia, and these cells were clearly marked compared with the glowing green background."