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Melbourne hospital trialling starch powder as a cure for bowel cancer

By Andrew Schreiber , 06-Jun-2014

Melbourne hospital trialling starch powder as a cure for bowel cancer

A new powder made from a modified cornstarch that can be sprinkled on foods is now being tested as a potential bowel cancer treatment in Australia.

Researchers and medical experts at the Royal Melbourne Hospital are looking for people with a family history of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) to take part in the trial.

FAP is an uncommon genetic disorder in which patients usually develop hundreds to thousands of small growths, called polyps, which carpet the colon.

The polyps are adenomatous, which means they are immediate precursors to colon cancer. These generally appear in the teenage years, and if left untreated, inevitably progress to bowel cancer, according to the hospital.

The study, called StarPlusB, involves supplementing the diet with a small amount of powdered cornstarch daily over a 12-month period while monitoring polyp growth and diet.

According to the RMH, this could be as simple as eating the powder in milk to sprinkling it on cereal and salads to see if it can reduce the number of polyps in their colon.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian government’s scientific agency, developed the powder.

Professor Finlay Macrae, head of the RMH’s colorectal medicine and genetics department, told the Herald Sun that to make the powder, scientists used a resistant starch that was difficult to digest and capable of making its way to the colon.

They modified the starch so that it contained a chemical called butyrate, which is a normal product of fermentation in the gut and has also been shown to have anti-cancer properties in animal and laboratory studies.

“It inhibits the growth of cancerous cells, but the issue has always been how you deliver it to the colon in sufficient quantities,” he said.

“The scientists chemically attached butyrate to starch so that when it is ingested and reaches the colon it releases a big punch of it.”

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