Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. An increasing number of human studies have highlighted the association among the consumption of sugary drinks, obesity, and the risk of colon cancer. It is currently thought that sugar is harmful to our health mainly because consuming too much can lead to obesity. It is well known that obesity increases the risk of many types of cancer, including colon cancer. However, whether a direct, causal link exists between sugar consumption and colon cancer has remained unknown.
Our group recently showed that consuming a modest amount of refined sugar every day—the equivalent of a human drinking about 12 ounces of a sugar-sweetened beverage daily—accelerates colon tumor development in mice, and it does so independently of causing obesity. The proposed project will identify the molecular mechanisms by which sugar enhance colon tumor development. In particular, we will focus on how sugary drinks alter the bacteria living in the gut and how these altered gut bacteria contribute to tumor development. To this end, we hope to identify bacteria that increase specifically in response to sugar consumption that could serve as new targets for prevention and treatment for colon cancer patients. Given that more than half of American young adults consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily, and that young-onset colon cancer is on the rise for unknown reasons, any positive findings from this project will be of immense significance.