Mannose: The Sugar That Might Help Us Fight Cancer and Its Connection to Honeybees

by François Dupont
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Recent research has shone a spotlight on mannose, a sugar found in our bodies that appears to have anti-cancer properties, potentially enhancing cancer treatments while avoiding unwanted side effects. This sugar has been identified as the possible key to a new approach in fighting cancer.

Understanding the Anti-Cancer Power of Mannose

Sanford Burnham Prebys and the Osaka International Cancer Institute recently conducted a study to shed more light on the anti-cancer effects of mannose. As a crucial sugar in various human physiological processes, mannose is already known to impede the growth of cancer cells. Published today (July 18) in eLife, the research suggests that mannose could be a powerful supplementary cancer treatment.

“This sugar might be the boost we need to enhance other cancer treatments,” explains co-author Hudson Freeze, Ph.D., the director of the Human Genetics Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys. “Since mannose is a natural component in our bodies, it could potentially amplify the effectiveness of cancer treatment without introducing any negative side effects.”

The Role of Mannose in Glycosylation

Mannose is a sugar that the body attaches to proteins, stabilizing their structure and promoting interaction with other molecules. This process, known as glycosylation, is vital for life. However, any dysfunctions in glycosylation can lead to rare, severe, and often life-threatening diseases.

“Until now, mannose was primarily viewed as a potential treatment for congenital disorders of glycosylation, which can cause severe symptoms throughout the body,” Freeze says. “However, we think that we could possibly harness mannose to fight against cancer and other diseases.”

The Link Between Mannose, Honeybees, and Cancer

While previous studies have shown that mannose inhibits the growth of various types of cancer in the lab, the exact mechanism behind this has remained a mystery. To explore this further, the researchers studied an intriguing property of mannose observed in honeybees.

“For over a century, we’ve known that mannose is toxic to honeybees because they can’t process it like humans—it’s referred to as ‘honeybee syndrome,'” Freeze explains. “We wanted to explore whether there’s a connection between honeybee syndrome and mannose’s anti-cancer properties, potentially leading to a novel way to fight cancer.”

Research Findings and Their Implications for the Future

The research team, utilizing genetically modified human cancer cells from fibrosarcoma (a rare cancer that affects connective tissue), managed to mimic honeybee syndrome. They discovered that without the enzyme needed to metabolize mannose, cells replicate slowly and become notably more susceptible to chemotherapy.

“Triggering honeybee syndrome in these cancer cells hindered their ability to produce DNA building blocks and replicate normally,” Freeze says. “This could help clarify why mannose has anti-cancer effects in the lab.”

While leveraging honeybee syndrome could potentially offer a new auxiliary treatment for cancer, researchers caution that more research is needed to identify which types of cancer are most receptive to mannose, as this effect hinges on critical metabolic processes.

The Promise of Glycosylating Sugars for Cancer Treatment

“If we identify cancers with low activity of the enzyme that processes mannose, administering mannose could make chemotherapy more effective,” Freeze says. “It’s commonly believed that treatments are always discovered in response to diseases. However, sometimes, you stumble upon a potentially useful biological phenomenon and then need to find a disease that it could treat.”

The study underscores the broader potential of sugars involved in glycosylation for cancer treatment, a research field still in its early stages.

“The study of sugar metabolism within cancer cells, or glycobiology, is still largely untapped,” Freeze adds. “It could be a goldmine of potential treatments waiting to be discovered.”

Full reference: “Metabolic clogging of mannose triggers dNTP loss and genomic instability in human cancer cells” by Yoichiro Harada et al., 18 July 2023, eLife. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83870

The study was co-authored by researchers from Osaka International Cancer Institute, RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, Keio University, Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Osaka University. The research was supported by the Takeda Science Foundation, JSPS KAKENHI (JP23K06645), the Rocket Fund, and the National Institutes of Health (R01DK99551).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mannose and cancer treatment

What is the main focus of the recent research on mannose?

The main focus of the recent research is to understand the anti-cancer properties of mannose, a sugar that is lethal to honeybees but appears to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in humans.

How might mannose enhance cancer treatment?

Mannose might enhance cancer treatment by slowing down the replication of cancer cells, thereby making them more susceptible to chemotherapy. The research is still in early stages, and more studies are needed to confirm these findings.

What is the role of mannose in the human body?

Mannose is a sugar that the human body attaches to proteins to stabilize their structure and promote interaction with other molecules. This process, known as glycosylation, is essential for life. Dysfunctions in glycosylation can lead to rare, severe, and often life-threatening diseases.

How is mannose linked to honeybees?

Mannose is lethal to honeybees as they can’t process it like humans. This is known as “honeybee syndrome”. The researchers explored the connection between honeybee syndrome and mannose’s anti-cancer properties to potentially develop a new way to fight cancer.

What are the future implications of this research?

The research suggests that mannose could potentially be a valuable auxiliary treatment for cancer. However, more research is required to identify which types of cancer would be most responsive to mannose. This study also underscores the potential of sugars involved in glycosylation for cancer treatment, a field still in its early stages.

More about Mannose and cancer treatment

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MaggieBeeKeeper July 18, 2023 - 2:23 pm

So, this is why my bees die when they get into the sugar?! Fascinating. It’s amazing what nature can do.

Jenny_HealthNut July 18, 2023 - 3:04 pm

i’m always amazed at what we learn from nature. this is pretty exciting stuff! here’s to hoping it leads to new cancer treatments!

Skeptical_Susan July 18, 2023 - 6:01 pm

Sounds promising, but I’ll believe it when I see more concrete results. Cancer is a beast, and I don’t think there’s a simple fix.

Dr_Glycobiology July 18, 2023 - 7:26 pm

So glad to see more research into glycosylation! its a highly underrated area in biochem. Go sugars!

Bill_ScienceGuy July 18, 2023 - 9:30 pm

Interesting read! Metabolism and sugar chemistry has always been complex. Looking forward to see where this research goes.

CancerSurvivor83 July 19, 2023 - 10:43 am

Wow, I never thought a simple sugar could help fight cancer. hope they keep finding more ways to combat this disease.


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