It is called GlucoCEST and is a new technique for detecting the presence of cancer cells through injections of sugar. Developed by a team of researchers at the ‘ University College London (UCL), GlucoCEST is based on the assumption that cancer cells have an increased glucose consumption, thus injecting the substance directly into the tissues, they become more easily identifiable through the magnetic resonance imaging. The important study was published in Nature Medicine .

The name of the technique is derived from ‘ glucose chemical exchange saturation transfer ‘, as everything revolves around the way in which the sugar is absorbed by the body: the tumors, in fact, consume much more glucose compared to healthy tissues of the organism, because they have need to support their rapid growth processes. The glycolysis of the tumor cells can get to be up to 200 times higher than that of healthy cells, due to an increased local consumption of oxygen (a phenomenon known as the Warburg effect).

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Researchers at University College London have discovered that even through the magnetic resonance is possible to observe the consumption of glucose. How? Using the radio waves for the magnetically labeled glucose in the body. The app even seems very economical, because GlucoCEST uses an injection of normal sugar, and – as pointed out by Simon Walker-Samuel, of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) UCL – could become a safe alternative to methods that exist and which have so far been used to detect tumors. In fact, even the PET identifies tumors highlighting the areas in which is present a higher concentration of sugars, but a technique is much more expensive and dangerous, as it employs glucose labeled with radioactive substances.

So, as said Professor Mark Lythgoe , before signature of the study, it seems that in the near future will be able to “detect cancer using the same sugar content of a chocolate bar. ” For the moment GlucoCEST has been tested only on mice, but the results achieved so far are considered quite encouraging.