Artificial sweeteners as a cancer treatment

We're seeking a commercial partner to develop the use of sucralose as a treatment for cancer.

Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose reduce the tumour-induced permeability of capillary walls, preventing the spread of cancer cells via the bloodstream, and inhibit the formation of blood vessels in new tissue, restricting tumour growth.

The spread of cancer through metastasis formation is a major cause of death. Malignant cancer cells need to cross the endothelial barrier into blood vessels to enable them to move around the body from a primary location and spread to a secondary location, where they cross the endothelial barrier again and enter tissue. Once cancer cells have reached the secondary location, they produce a signalling protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that promotes the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), providing the oxygen and nutrients needed to support the metastatic tumour. VEGF also increases leak across the endothelium therefore promoting the spread of cancer cells through the body. The prognosis for patients with metastasis is poor and there is thus a great need to develop effective treatments to prevent the formation and growth of metastatic tumours.

Sucralose has the potential to improve the prognosis of patients with metastasis.

Our researchers have shown that activation of the T1R3 receptor by the artificial sweetener sucralose blocks VEGF-induced leak and angiogenic processes such as cell migration and vessel formation, offering a novel and highly effective anti-angiogenic therapy.

T1R3 is a ubiquitous GPCR which binds a range of sweet taste molecules from low concentrations of artificial sweeteners to high concentrations of sugars. Sucralose is an ideal candidate for initial trials, because it binds to the receptor 20 times tighter than sucrose, has no other metabolic functions and is already available in pharmaceutical grade (Merck 100894) for use as an excipient.

Commercial opportunities

We're seeking a commercial partner to take this opportunity from the laboratory to the clinic.

Our research has demonstrated that sucralose reduces tube formation and vascular leak in the endothelium. The next stage of our project will establish how this protective effect extends to the tumour vasculature. Experiments with co-cultures of primary endothelial, metastatic and non-metastatic cancer cell lines will be performed to demonstrate the extent to which artificial sweeteners can:

  1. Strengthen the endothelium to reduce the movement of cancer cells
  2. Limit the growth of new vessels in a tumour environment by blocking angiogenic processes.

These studies will take two years to complete and require funding for a laboratory researcher and consumables at a cost of £250,000.

Work with us

We welcome proposals for joint funding applications with a commercial partner.

The anticipated outcomes will show that T1R3 agonists protect against metastatic conditions by improving barrier integrity concomitant with reduced movement of cancer cells across the barrier (decreased metastasis). Studies are expected to show that T1R3 agonists limit angiogenic processes caused by metastatic conditions, thereby blocking the development of tumours. Finally, studies will indicate the role of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) in regulating these protective effects and indicate the role of specific MMPs in mediating this protective effect of artificial sweeteners. Taken together, these data will demonstrate the potential for sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners, to improve outcomes for patients with metastasis.

Anglia Ruskin University has filed a patent to protect this IP, and aim to license or sell the IP as it moves towards a clinical trial.

Artificial sweeteners as a cancer treatment (PDF)

Get in touch

Contact Sarah Bell in our Research and Innovation Development Office for more information.