Scientists Reveal the Relationship Between Sugar and Cancer

A crucial breakthrough in cancer research.


A nine-year collaboration of scientists at VIB, KU Leuven and VUB have made a crucial breakthrough in cancer research. Scientists suggest there is a long-term relationship between sugar and cancer.

The study suggests, how the cancer cells rapidly break down sugars and optimize cells growth. According to scientists, it may extensive effects on tailor-made eating regimens for cancer patients.

The phenomenon in which cancer cells break down sugar and stimulate cells is known as Warburg effect. It converts significantly higher amounts of sugar into lactate compared to healthy tissues.

Often scientists hypothesized it in order to discover whether the effect is a symptom or a cause of cancer.

Prof. Johan Thevelein (VIB-KU Leuven) said, “Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth. Thus, it is able to explain the correlation between the strength of the Warburg effect and tumor aggressiveness. This link between sugar and cancer has sweeping consequences. Our results provide a foundation for future research in this domain, which can now be performed with a much more precise and relevant focus.”

Scientists hypothesized yeast cells for the study, specifically looking at the ‘Ras’ gene family. It is the family of genes in all animal cells consists of  ‘Ras’ proteins. Using yeast as a model organism, scientists examined the connection between Ras activity and the highly active sugar metabolism in yeast.

They found that the yeast makes RAS proteins too much active, which would then allow the cells to grow at an accelerated rate.

Prof. Johan Thevelein (VIB-KU Leuven) said, “We observed in yeast that sugar degradation is linked via the intermediate fructose 1,6-bisphosphate to the activation of Ras proteins, which stimulate the multiplication of both yeast and cancer cells. It is striking that this mechanism has been conserved throughout the long evolution of yeast cell to human.”

“The main advantage of using yeast was that our research was not affected by the additional regulatory mechanisms of mammalian cells, which conceal crucial underlying processes. We were thus able to target this process in yeast cells and confirm its presence in mammalian cells. However, the findings are not sufficient to identify the primary cause of the Warburg effect. Further research is needed to find out whether this primary cause is also conserved in yeast cells.”