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Research: High Blood Sugar Makes Chemotherapy More Effective

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Illustration of leukocytes attacking cancer

Elevated blood sugar generally is not a good thing. But researchers at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center found that high blood sugar helped some cancer patients respond better to chemotherapy drugs.

The findings present a potentially new way to treat the cancer, says Jordan Winter, MD, Director of Surgical Services at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. “Our findings reveal an approach that would be relatively low cost and could be easily tested in other patients with cancer.”

A New Strategy for Fighting Cancer

The study, published in the science journal Nature Communications, found that pancreatic cancer cells were more responsive to chemotherapy when blood sugar was high. They studied the effects in mice and also in a group of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

The researchers increased blood sugar levels by adding glucose to drinking water. The chemotherapy worked much better in the mice with high blood sugar, compared to mice with normal blood sugar.

“Making tumors more sensitive to chemotherapy by raising blood sugar offers a completely new therapeutic strategy. Our findings reveal an approach that would have relatively low cost and could be easily tested in patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Winter.

“We’re already getting to work designing a trial to treat patients safely with intentionally elevated blood sugars and will determine if this strategy can improve patient outcomes.”

From the Lab to Real Life

Dr. Winter says this simple strategy could potentially reduce the significant cost and time required to develop new therapies for pancreatic cancer. In a clinical setting, doctors could raise the blood sugar levels of cancer patients with an intravenous infusion of a simple sugar, at the same time as chemotherapy infusions.

Cancer researchers have sought for decades to find effective new therapies to improve survival rates. In the case of pancreatic cancer, the median survival of patients with disease that has spread is just eight to 11 months, and the five-year survival rate is around 3 percent. About 60,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States.

“Our patients need better treatment options urgently,” says Dr. Winter.

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At University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, our care team provides the most advanced forms of cancer care, from prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment through survivorship.

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