UK Scientists To Study Alleged Aspartame Link To Cancer
LONDON - British scientists said on Tuesday they would carry out a three-year study into the artificial sweetener aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, which has been dogged by allegations that it is linked to brain tumours.
"We are not trying to conduct a war against NutraSweet. This is a serious, scientific study to try to re-examine something that is already in the scientific realm,'' Peter Nunn, a senior lecturer in biochemistry at King's College, London told Reuters.
Aspartame became a major scientific talking point in 1996 when a professor at Washington University in St. Louis said it appeared to be a promising candidate for explaining a surge in brain tumours in the mid-1980s.
NutraSweet AG, which markets the sweetener in Europe, welcomed the new British study, saying it hoped it would lay to rest the "groundless rumours'' surrounding aspartame, widely used in low calorie soft drinks and foods.
The British scientists said they were interested in examining the possibility that some people were genetically disposed to be more sensitive to aspartame than others.
"We are just trying to find a different way to look at it,'' Nunn said.
NutraSweet is a unit of life sciences firm Monsanto Co (MTC.N). The parent company said on July 1 it was planning to sell its NutraSweet artificial sweetener and biogum businesses.
"There is already an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence which confirms the safety of aspartame, but scare-mongerers have continued to claim that aspartame is linked to brain tumours,'' the company said in a statement.
It said there was no way aspartame there could be such a link. "It is physiologically impossible for aspartame to cause brain tumours because it never enters the blood stream and thus cannot travel to essential organs, including the brain.''
Aspartame is made up of amino acids much sweeter than sugar but has not been shown to aid dieters much in losing weight.
NutraSweet was approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981. Monsanto held the patent until it expired in 1992.
In 1996, John Olney of Washington University said other risk factors common to industrialised nations like higher levels of ionizing radiation, smoke in the air, pesticides and industrial chemicals could also be responsible for rising tumour rates.
But he cited the "need for a reassessment of the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) potential'' of aspartame.
Nunn said his team wanted to look at the effect of aspartame on different cell types.
"We were interested in looking at the situation again because it is now known that there are a number of mutations which are available in cell culture which could be much more sensitive to possible carcinogens than unmutated cells.''
He said the way different people reacted to cigarette smoke was an example of what they would be examining.
"We just don't know why it is that some people are resistant to carcinogens in tobacco smoke while others are very sensitive. It may be something like that (with aspartame).''