A nutritional supplement may slow the progression of certain cancers and boost the effects of treatment, a new study suggests.
The study conducted on mice with pancreatic, lung or skin cancer, were given mannose, a sugar also found in cranberries and other fruits, report agencies.
It significantly slowed the growth of their tumours, with no obvious side-effects, researchers found.
However, patients are being told not to start supplementing with mannose because of the risk of side-effects.
Scientists hope to start human trials soon.
Mannose, which can be bought in health food shops and is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections, is thought to interfere with the ability of tumours to use glucose to grow.
Scientists also looked at how mannose might affect cancer treatment by giving it to mice that had been treated with two of the most widely used chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin, and doxorubicin.
They found it enhanced the effects of chemotherapy, slowing the growth of tumours and reducing their size. It also increased the lifespan of some mice.
In further tests, cells from other types of cancer, including leukaemia, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), ovarian, and bowel cancer were exposed to mannose in the laboratory.
Some cells responded well, while others did not.
How well the cells responded appeared to depend on the levels they had of an enzyme that breaks down mannose.
Lead author Professor Kevin Ryan, from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said his team had found a dosage of mannose that could block enough glucose to slow tumour growth in mice but not so much that normal tissues were affected.
Bodies require glucose for energy but cancerous tumours also use it to fuel their growth.
“This is early research but it is hoped that finding this perfect balance means that, in the future, mannose could be given to cancer patients to enhance chemotherapy without damaging their overall health,” Ryan said.
One advantage of mannose is that it is cheaper than drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies.
However, he and other experts warn that the findings do not mean people with cancer should start supplementing with mannose.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head nurse, said “Although these results are very promising for the future of some cancer treatments, this is very early research and has not yet been tested in humans.”