Researchers at the Osaka International Cancer Institute, along with their colleagues from Sanford Burnham Prebys, have uncovered an intriguing link between mannose sugar, honeybees, and a potentially novel cancer treatment.
Mannose, a type of sugar found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and some legumes, is known to be lethal to honeybees. In recent years this sugar has been found to exhibit anti-cancer properties in the lab, which the researchers have explored further.
They published their findings in the journal eLife, suggesting that mannose could potentially be a secondary treatment for cancer, as it inhibits the growth of cancers while leaving healthy cells unaffected.
Interestingly, the study drew inspiration from the “honeybee syndrome”, a phenomenon where mannose proves deadly to these insects. Honeybees were also used in the study as a model to understand how mannose affects cell metabolism.
“It’s been known for more than a century that mannose is lethal to honeybees because they can’t process it like humans do—it’s known as ‘honeybee syndrome’,” Hudson Freeze, director of the Human Genetics Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys, said in a statement.
“We wanted to see if there is any relationship between honeybee syndrome and the anti-cancer properties of mannose, which could lead to an entirely new approach to combat cancer,” Freeze added.
In the case of honeybees, mannose causes a buildup of a compound called mannose-6-phosphate, which disrupts glucose metabolism and leads to their death. The researchers explored whether the same metabolic changes induced by mannose in honeybees could also have anti-cancer effects in human cancer cells.
The honeybee connection helped scientists investigate the potential mechanisms of mannose’s anti-cancer properties. In experiments using genetically engineered human cancer cells, the scientists discovered that too much mannose leads to a metabolic change that causes a shortage in the building blocks for DNA.
This in turn slows down the cancer cells’ division and makes them more responsive to chemotherapies, potentially enhancing their effectiveness in the treatment of cancers. “This sugar could give cancer an extra punch alongside other treatments,” said Freeze.
More research is required to identify specific cancer types that respond best to mannose treatment. However, these findings offer exciting possibilities for developing targeted and personalised cancer therapies.