A sweet and fatty cancer therapy

Gopalan Sampathkumar and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University have patented a new combination of a sugar molecule and a short-chain fatty acid, butyrate, which they claim offers an entirely new approach to cancer therapy that side-steps radiation and cytotoxic drugs. The team has built on twenty-year-old findings that butyrate itself can slow the spread of cancer cells. Butyrate forms naturally at high levels in the digestive tract when symbiotic bacteria feed on dietary fiber. Efforts to use standalone butyrate as an anticancer drug have failed because of the high doses needed. Other researchers have added sugars to butyrate to mask its toxicity at these doses. However, the JHU team selected their sugar, N-acetyl-D-mannosamine, or ManNAc, with the aim of creating a new synergistic compound that would serve a double blow to cancer cells. Although the study of the exact molecular mechanism is in its early stages, the researchers believe the separate chemical components work together to bolster the cancer-fighting power of butyrate. The double attack triggers cellular suicide, also called apoptosis, in the cancer cells.