Researchers may have moved a step closer to realizing potential treatments to stop tumor growth, by gaining fresh insights into the notion that sugar 'feeds' cancer.
"It's been known since 1923 that tumor cells use a lot more glucose than normal cells. Our research helps show how this process takes place, and how it might be stopped to control tumor growth," says Dr. Don Ayer, a Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator and professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences at the University of Utah.
The researchers point out that during both normal and cancerous cell growth, a cellular process takes place that involves both glucose (sugar) and glutamine (an amino acid).
Glucose and glutamine are both essential for cell growth, they say.
While it was long assumed they operated independently, Ayer's research shows they are inter-dependent.
He has found that glucose utilization is stopped when glutamine availability is restricted.
"Essentially, if you don't have glutamine, the cell is short circuited due to a lack of glucose, which halts the growth of the tumor cell" he says.
Dr. Mohan Kaadige, a postdoctoral fellow in Ayer's lab, focused on a protein called MondoA, responsible for turning genes on and off, during the study.
In the presence of glutamine, MondoA blocks the expression of a gene called TXNIP. TXNIP is thought to be a tumor suppressor, but when it's blocked by MondoA , it allows cells to take up glucose, which in turn drives tumor growth.
Ayer believes that his team's work may lead to new drugs that would target glutamine utilization, or target MondoA or TXNIP.
He says that the next step in his research is to develop animal models to test his ideas about how MondoA and TXNIP control cell growth.
"If we can understand that, we can break the cycle of glucose utilization which could be beneficial in the treatment of cancer," he says.
A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.