News archive 2008
Alcohol and oral cancer research breakthrough18 Mar 2008, PR 50/08
Researchers from the Dental Institute and the Nutritional Science Research Division, led by Professors Saman Warnakulasuriya and Victor R Preedy have published new research findings which herald a significant advance in understanding how alcohol may cause oral (mouth) cancer.
Oral cancer affects around 4,600 people in the UK per year and the disease is more common in Scotland. It is a highly lethal disease and five year survival is around 50 per cent. At least three people die of or with oral cancer every day in the UK.
Saman Warnakulasuriya, Professor of Oral Medicine & Experimental Pathology at King’s, and lead researcher in the project says: ‘We are very excited by this discovery. Alcohol is a major risk factor for oral cancer. We have so far not been able to explain exact mechanisms how alcohol causes cancer of the mouth'.
Through study of a group of alcohol misusers the researchers have found that a break down product of alcohol – acetaldehyde can be detected in oral mucosal cells, and thereby provide a marker for alcohol metabolism.
The research team at King’s worked in collaboration with Professor Onni Niemela and Professor Seppo Parkkila at the University of Tampere, Finland. Dr Onni Niemela, a Professor of Laboratory Medicine at the University of Tampere, comments: ‘This product (acetaldehyde) identifies cells that are damaged by the alcohol, and through the study of these cells we can see how the damage may trigger diseases such as cancer in alcohol misusers’.
During alcohol ingestion acetaldehyde appears to react with proteins in the mouth to form rigid bonds with amino acids, otherwise known as adducts. This reaction interferes with both protein structure and function irreversibly. As a result the immune system recognises these adducts/bonds as foreign and fires off an inflammatory response.
In such cases, Acetaldehyde may also bind to DNA and blocks DNA repair machinery thereby triggering mutations and instigating cancers. A further combination of both tobacco and alcohol increase the dangers of acetaldehyde, and thereby the risk of cancer. ‘These new findings have illuminated a potential screening tool to detect who may have alcohol induced damage in their oral mucosal cells.
Victor R Preedy, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at King’s who contributed to this research, says: ‘The discovery of acetaldehyde adducts in tissues is very important and helps us understand how diseases may be caused. In this case the information adds to our understanding of mouth cancer. Acetaldehyde is a very small molecule and occurs naturally but in some circumstances it can be very damaging. We need to know much more about acetaldehyde’.
Dr Toru Nagao, Chief Maxillofacial Surgeon at Okazaki City Hospital in Japan who contributed tissue samples from a Japanese population for comparison with British subjects was keen to highlight the significance of the study to Japanese researchers and says: ‘There are genetic differences in Japanese populations that affect metabolism of alcohol, and few who cannot further breakdown acetaldehyde due to missing enzymatic mechanisms. Finding acetaldehyde in oral tissues may in the future be a marker for such aberrative pathways of alcohol metabolism'.
Notes to editors
1. The paper is published in J Oral Medicine & Pathology: March 2008, 37: 157-165. Authors are: Warnakulasuriya S, Parikka S, Nagao T, Preedy VR, Pasanen M, Koivisto H, Niemela O. Demonstration of ethanol-induced protein adducts in oral leukoplakia (precancer) and cancer
Acetaldehyde is a highly reactive metabolite, which can bind to proteins, cellular constituents or DNA, forming stable adducts. Such adducts have previously been shown to be deposited in ethanol-exposed tissues such as the liver, muscle, and blood cells. While cellular repair systems usually remove such adducts, mutations could arise if the adducts persist and escape repair.
3. Professor’s Victor Preedy and Peter Emery were recently instrumental in organizing and chairing the world's first International Meeting devoted solely to acetaldehyde related pathology.
4. For more information about oral cancer go to www.ocedr.org
King’s College London
King’s College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher 2007) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King’s has 19,700 students from more than 140 countries, and 5,400 employees. King’s has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. The College is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings and has an annual income of approximately £400 million. An investment of £500 million has been made in the redevelopment of its estate.
King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, social sciences, the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres - more than any other university.
Kate Moore, Public Relations Officer (Health Schools)
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