Researchers have identified a vital supply route that cancer cells use to obtain their nutrients, in a discovery that could lead to new treatments to stop the growth of tumors. The research team blocked gateways through which the cancer cell was obtaining the amino acid glutamine and found the cells almost completely stopped growing.
“This is likely to work in a wide range of cancers, because it is a very common mechanism in cancer cells,” said lead researcher Stefan Bröer, PhD, from The Australian National University (ANU).
“Better still, this should lead to chemotherapy with much less serious side effects, as normal cells do not use glutamine as a building material.
“Crucial white blood cells, which current treatments damage, could be spared, and it could cut out the hair loss that chemotherapy causes.”
There are 917 different types of cancer currently identified, and many cures work only for a single type of disease or become ineffective as cancers develop resistance to chemotherapy. Bröer, a biochemist in the ANU Research School of Biology, said the new approach would be less prone to resistance because blocking the glutamine transport mechanism is an external process that would be hard for cancer cells to get around.
The team first attempted a glutamine blockade by genetically altering cancer cells to disable their main glutamine transporter. However, it was not very effective, Bröer said.
“It was not quite as simple as we thought. The cells set off a biochemical alarm, which opened a back door in the cell so they could still get the glutamine they needed,” he said.
Once the team had disabled the second gateway by turning off the biochemical alarm with a technique known as RNA silencing, the cells’ growth reduced by 96 percent.
The results are published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
This article was adapted from information provided by ANU.