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Sugar Could Relieve the Process of Getting Body Scans

Update Date: Jul 12, 2013 01:26 PM EDT

For cancer patients, getting body scans becomes a regular and required test. This amount of scans often exposes the body to high levels of radioactive material, which is undesirable. Due to this fact, researchers have tried to find alternative options that could make the process easier for patients. In a new study, researchers found in mouse models that using sugar could potentially help doctors screen for cancerous tumors on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. If this method could be perfected for human models, patients could potentially avoid using the conventional positron emission tomography (PET) scans that utilize radioactive material.

"This method could offer a cheap, safe alternative to existing methods for detecting tumors," said researcher Simon Walker-Samuel from the University College London according to Live Science.

The current PET scans use expensive radioactive material. This material comes with risks, especially for children and pregnant women who are considered highly vulnerable groups. In this study, the researchers implanted mice with human tumors. They then used the new MRI technique involving sugar and found that cancerous cells showed up distinctively on the scans. The researchers stated that this method appears to work because the cancer cells that divide rapidly tend to consume more sugar than normal, healthy cells. Since they are absorbing the sugar at a faster rate, they will show up on the MRI scan that is meant to detect glucose.

For people who are worried about consuming extra sugar, the researchers assure that the amount they will need before a scan will just be half a chocolate bar. Granted that this amount could be relatively a lot of sugar for some patients, consuming a sugary beverage trumps one with radioactive material. The researchers hope that this method would provide an easier way to scan for tumors and have now started to plan for a future trial in humans. However, the researchers would have to consider the strength of the MRI machine. The machines used in the lab, such as the one they used for the mice experiment, are generally three times stronger than the machines used on patients. The difference between the strength of machines could make these tumors undetectable when used on humans.

"It looks promising," Walker-Samuel said. "The patients lie in the scanner, and drink a sugary drink. And then, up to an hour later, we start seeing the accumulation of glucose in tumors."

The study was published in Nature on July 7.

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