Sugar is the primary source of energy and fuel for biosynthesis of normal cells, but in cancer cells sugar is metabolized differently.
Cancer cells switch from burning to fermenting sugar. And this fermentation facilitates the consumption of glutamine, another nutrient source. Glutamine is abundantly available in the bloodstream, and cancer cells take in large amounts of it to support cell division.
A new study, published in Cell Reports, suggests this process is driven by cancer-causing mutations.
“Every tissue or cell type in the body has different metabolic needs but as cells become cancerous their metabolism shifts in ways that are very different from normal cells,” says Joshua Munger, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester. “Being able to identify those differences is critical for developing treatment targets.”
“Our paper demonstrates that cancer cells, but not normal cells, depend on this link between sugar fermentation and glutamine consumption,” says Hucky Land, professor and chair of biomedical genetics. “This suggests a novel way that we might be able to intervene with treatment.”
Experiments with colon cancer cells show that by blocking enzymes that are specific to colon cancer cell metabolism, tumor growth is slowed or stopped.
“Is it possible to apply this to other cancers? That’s our next question,” Munger says. “We’re testing how this could be broadly applied in the clinic.”
The National Institutes of Health funded the project.
Source: University of Rochester