Scientists Discovered A New Way to Starve Lung Cancer Cells

Lung cancer, one of the cancers with the highest morbidity and mortality, is a malignant tumor that seriously harms human health. A new study recently published in the journal Molecular Cell has opened up a new way for the treatment of lung cancer, which suggests using alternative sources of nutrition to prevent the growth of lung cancer cells.

Cancer cells have great differences with normal cells in terms of the metabolism. The rapid proliferation of cancer cells requires a lot of energy, which is met by using glucose (sugar) as the main source of nutrition. Cancer cells use glucose at rates ten times or even hundreds of times faster than that of normal cells. When glucose becomes scarce, cancer cells will take other nutrients to maintain their growth and survival.

Scientists at McGill University, Washington University, ITMO University and the University of Bristol have conducted a thorough study of non-small cell lung cancer. They found that in the case of glucose deprivation, lung cancer cells will change their eating habits, using the amino acid glutamine instead, which is an important metabolic mechanism for cancer cell growth.

The researchers noted that lung cancer cells use PEPCK, an enzyme, to reprogram cancer cell metabolism. “Until recently, PEPCK has only been extensively studied in specialized tissues that make glucose, such as the liver,” said Emma Vincent, the lead author of the research, and the Research Associate at McGill University. The scientists indicated that blocking PEPCK in cancer cells could slow growth of tumor cells in mice.

The researchers also discovered that the PEPCK levels were increased in patients with lung cancer. “This shows that the PEPCK plays an important role in human disease,” said Russell Jones, Associate Professor of McGill University, “The availability of nutrition can affect the development process of cancer.” Cancer cells use alternative energy sources under pressure, and this flexibility leads to particularly deadly cancer. To understand the specific mechanism behind this process will bring new hopes for cancer treatment.

Reference:

Mitochondrial Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase Regulates Metabolic Adaptation and Enables Glucose-Independent Tumor Growth, Molecular Cell.

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