Supressing Growth Of Cancer Cells By Starving Them

  • Scientists find a way to starve cancer cells of their favorite foods. 
  • A molecule named Glutor can effectively inhibit 44 different cancer cell lines without affecting non-cancerous cell lines. 

Cells consume nutrients from their surroundings to grow and proliferate. Proliferating cancer cells and their healthy counterparts function in a different manner. Tumors use different strategies (context-dependent) to fuel their growth.

It has been observed that different types of cancer cells exhibit certain metabolic characteristics. Typically, these cells consume the most abundant circulating sugar (glucose) and amino acid (glutamine). Just like muscle cells burn through glucose during intense exercise, cancer cells can burn through glucose in a very short period of time.

Despite this known addiction of cancer cells to glucose and glutamine, there isn’t any FDA-approved drug that selectively or directly inhibits the enzymes of glycolysis or glutaminolysis.

What we know is blocking the import of glucose and glutamine could significantly suppress the growth of cancer. We need to find a way to starve cancer cells of their favorite foods.

Recently, an international team of researchers discovered a new, highly effective molecule (Glutor) that can block multiple types of glucose transport proteins. Prior to this, inhibitors were not much powerful and only able to block a single type of transport protein.

Treating Cancer With Glutor

In this study, researchers tried to treat cancer with Glutor by shutting down glucose metabolism. They performed experiments in a culture dish and showed that Glutor effectively inhibits 44 different cancer cell lines without affecting non-cancerous cell lines — a big breakthrough.

suppressing growth of cancer with glutorMolecular mechanism of the proposed chemotherapeutic strategy | Courtesy of researchers 

More specifically, Glutor targets glucose transporter GLUT-3, -2 and -1, and attenuates glycolytic flux, selectively suppressing the growth of cancer cell lines. This includes non-small-cell lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and head and neck tumors.

Reference: Cell Chemical Biology | DOI:10.1016/j.chembiol.2019.06.005

In addition, quickly splitting cancer cells depend on glutamine as Nitrogen and Carbon source, and interference with glutamine metabolism is considered a promising method for cancer drug discovery.

The combination of both inhibitors (GLUT-1/-3 and glutamine metabolism) can significantly reduce the growth of cancer cells. In other words, co-treatment (chemotherapy) with Glutor and the glutaminase inhibitor could be used as a powerful weapon against cancer.

This dual approach may also inspire medicinal chemistry and chemical biology programs aimed at the discovery of alternative strategies and compound classes for cancer treatment.

There’s Still A Long Way To Go

Although the study seems very exciting, there are several obstacles to overcome. Chemotherapy, for example, has multiple side effects, such as hair loss, skin problem, hearing loss, or patients may have trouble concentrating or remembering things.

These side effects arise due to the targeting of quickly splitting cells. Along with cancer cells, other healthy cells (immune cells, hair follicle cells, adult stem cells, etc.) also get divided quickly. This is the reason people who received chemotherapy are generally bald and immunodeficient.

Read: Cancer Treatment Could Be Improved By Using Game Theory

From a pharmacological point of view, the properties of Glutor are quite appealing, but there is still much to test and prove before the drug could be commercialized.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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