Tuesday, June 28, 2016
An Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist has discovered that certain sugars produced by the body play an important role in the development of colitis and, ultimately, colon cancer. The new finding could potentially lead to therapies for ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and colon cancer.
At OMRF, Dr. Lijun Xia, who also holds a Ph.D., has spent two decades studying O-glycans, a form of sugar that the body produces and that comprises nearly 80 percent of a thick mucous layer inside the colon and the gastrointestinal tract.
For the current research project, Xia and his lab genetically modified mice so that their bodies wouldn't produce these sugars. The scientists found that the mucous layer vanished and the mice developed colitis, an inflammatory condition in the large intestine.
In addition to colitis, these mice also developed a form of colon cancer (known as colitis-associated cancer) as they aged.
“Colorectal cancers pose a significant health care problem and are the third most common cancers for both men and women in the U.S.,” Xia said. “But in order to solve this problem, we first have to know the cause. In this case, we think we have found a key to this.”
According to Xia, this discovery is important for two reasons.
“First, these findings tell us that this mucus made up of O-glycan sugars is essential for preventing the development of colitis and colon cancer,” said Xia, who holds the
Merrick Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “When we deleted the sugar, colitis developed. That makes it essential in prevention.”
Second, Xia said, he and his team now have created an effective model to help researchers understand colorectal disease and to develop and test therapies.