Sugar Cancer Test: Breakthrough MRI Technique Detects Tumors [STUDY]

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 8, 2013 12:13 PM EDT

sugar cancer test
A new sugar cancer test causes malignant tumors to glow in MRI scans, a safer an cheaper procedure than PET scans. (Photo: University College London)

Sugar can be used to detect cancer using a new technique, researchers from University College London say. The technique tracks how the body absorbs sugar. 

The sugar cancer test is called "glucose chemical exchange saturation transfer" or, glucoCEST. By taking MRI images that specifically look for glucose uptake in the body, researchers were able to spot brightly-glowing tumors after subjects ate sugar-heavy foods. That's because malignant tumors in the body consume high levels of the sugar glucose, in order to keep growing, and thus are easy to spot in an MRI as part of the sugar cancer test.  

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"GlucoCEST uses radio waves to magnetically label glucose in the body," said Simon Walker-Samuel, lead researcher from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging. "This can then be detected in tumours using conventional MRI techniques. The method uses an injection of normal sugar and could offer a cheap, safe alternative to existing methods for detecting tumours, which require the injection of radioactive material."

Using no more than the amount of sugar from a chocolate bar, the tumors show up during the sugar cancer test. The test is safer and simpler than current cancer-detecting techniques like positron emission tomography, or PET, which requires an injection into the patient. The sugar cancer test also provides greater detail than previous tumor imaging. 

According to Mark Lythgoe, director of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging and the study's senior author, the radiation from PET carries a small risk of damaging DNA, so "it can only be used sparingly, and is not suitable for pregnant women or children. Too much radiation can damage DNA, and can either result in cell deaths or some cellular damage which can lead to secondary cancerous growths."

With the sugar cancer test, though, there are no adverse effects. So patients can be scanned in greater numbers, and each patient can be scanned as often as a doctor wants, without fear of exposing the patient to too much radiation. 

"Our research reveals a useful and cost-effective method for imaging cancers using MRI--a standard imaging technology available in many large hospitals," said Lythgoe. "In the future, patients could potentially be scanned in local hospitals, rather than being referred to [specialists]."

The results of the sugar cancer test study were published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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