- 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
- 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 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).''