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Seaweed sugar has ‘anti-tumour’ capabilities – new study

Immunotherapy: Cancer treatment explained in 2015

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According to the research paper, published on Monday, January 23, a “non-toxic dietary plant sugar”, known as L-fucose, could be helpful in improving the efficacy of immunotherapy. Led by biologist Eric Lau, Ph.D., the team demonstrated how L-fucose, which is found in red and brown seaweeds, can increase tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs).

TILs are immune cells in tumours that can recognise and attack the cancer cells but, often, there isn’t enough of them to suppress tumour growth.

Dr Lau explained: “Overall levels of L-fucose in melanoma [cancerous] cells decrease and how the cells use L-fucose changes during progression.

“However, we have found that raising L-fucose levels via dietary supplementation can suppress tumours.

“[Dietary addition of L-fucose] markedly increase TILs and enhance the efficacy of some immunotherapies in our animal models.”

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He added: “In humans, higher levels of L-fucose in melanomas are associated with less aggressive disease and better responses to therapy.”

While immunotherapies have improved the outcomes of many patients who have cancer, they do not work for everybody.

Dr Lau and his team hope the research findings, printed in the journal Nature Cancer, will pave the way for more effective cancer treatment.

“We took our work one step further and discovered that oral L-fucose also enhances activity of immunotherapy drugs in some of our melanoma models,” added Dr Lau.

Looking at three independent groups of cancer patients, from three different cancer centres, they assessed whether L-fucose levels reflected patient responsiveness to anti-cancer treatment.

They found that patients who responded well to therapy tended to have higher L-fucose levels in their tumours.

As such, the team suggested that L-fucose levels could be potential biomarkers to predict responsiveness to immunotherapy.

Dr Lau said: “Our findings identify and delineate a molecular mechanism by which L-fucose regulates an important interface between melanoma and immune cells.

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“This mechanism can be therapeutically leveraged by simply feeding L-fucose, which suggests a provocative and almost counterintuitive possibility: using sugar to fight cancer.”

Registered dietitian Sade Meeks verified that adding seaweed to the diet may help your health in numerous ways, from weight loss to blood sugars.

Highly nutritious, seaweed tends to be rich in protein, carbohydrates, fibre, minerals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Moreover, seaweed contains helpful nutrients, from vitamin C to iron.

There is research to suggest that seaweed can help with diabetes and it could also help to protect the heart.

How to eat more seaweed

Meeks supports the idea that dried nori sheets, used in sushi, could be a good substitute for tortillas, bread, and wraps.

Roasted seaweed, with a tiny amount of oil and salt, could be another way to enjoy the sea vegetable.

Moreover, seaweed flakes can be topped on top of rice or quinoa, and then there’s the option of adding seaweed to vegetable soup.

There is the possibility of eating too much seaweed, which has been linked to thyroid issues, so moderation is key.

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