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Wed, 18 Jan 2017

Link between sweetener and liver cancer probed

A James Cook University researcher will use a grant from the Cancer Council to investigate the relationship between fructose - a common sweetener in soft drinks - and liver cancer, an increasingly prevalent and deadly cancer.

Dr Lionel Hebbard has been awarded a $200,000 Cancer Council Queensland Research Project Grant to fund the research over the next two years.

He said liver cancer has had one of the highest increases in incidence rates over the last thirty years, along with a patient survival rate of less than 16 per cent five years after diagnosis.

“Usually liver cancer is linked to alcohol, but non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs in some 30-45 percent of cases. This is exacerbated by people being overweight or obese – which is more than 60 percent of the Australian population.”

Dr Hebbard said a major component of the western diet is the carbohydrate fructose, which can promote fatty liver disease in humans and liver cancer in mice. Most fructose in the body enters in the form of sugar added to carbonated drinks or sweet snacks.  

“Despite that, little is known about the key molecular events that fructose modulates during liver cancer growth,” said Dr Hebbard.

“We expect our research will set the stage for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

“It’s sorely needed as liver disease is almost always fatal if untreated and often occurs in people with other conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that limit surgical options,” he said.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the study could provide a breakthrough in cancer treatment.

“A greater understanding of the link between fructose and liver cancer may help prevent cases of the disease and save lives,” Ms Clift said.

“Liver cancer had one of the highest increases in incidence rates over the last thirty years in Queensland.

“More than 320 Queenslanders are diagnosed with liver cancer each year, and about 255 die from the disease.

“We are proud to be funding this local research to benefit all Queenslanders.”


Liver cancer claims around 1600 lives in Australia every year.

Liver cancer results from sustained injury that is associated with hepatic diseases such as hepatitis infection, aflatoxin ingestion and alcohol abuse.

A recent Deloitte Access Economics Report estimated that over 6 million Australians have some form of liver disease at a total financial cost of $5.44 billion.

The James Cook University research grant is one of 10 research projects Cancer Council Queensland has funded in 2017/18.

A full list of Cancer Council’s 2017/18 research grants is available online at cancerqld.org.au.


Dr Lionel Hebbard
E: lionel.hebbard@jcu.edu.au
P: 07 4781 5684