In the fight against cancer, one of the most important things scientists can understand is how the disease moves so they can stop it in its tracks before it spreads.
Now a new study has uncovered one of the most important elements of fighting cancer – how to cut off the supply of food that allows the cells to grow at such a rapid rate and develop new tumours.
A team of researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Centre found they were able to switch off a specific gene in human DNA that starves cancer cells of glucose, and avoid damaging normal cells in the process.
Cancer cells consume exorbitant amounts of glucose when they are taking hold, in fact they require so much of this sugar, that doctors use glucose isotopes to pinpoint the exact location of a tumor and its metastases within the human body.
Where there are abnormally high levels of glucose being used, chances are there is a cancerous growth.
As a result, inhibiting glucose uptake has long been suggested as a logical therapeutic strategy, but the ability to do this has been missing.
Now the team have finally identified a way to do this by stopping a gene CDK8.
CDK8 has long been linked to the development of many cancers including colorectal cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer, where it regulates pathways that drive the growth and survival of cancer cells.
When cancer cells start to grow quickly, they strip the blood supply of oxygen, and then force the body to enter a hypoxic condition, and move on to consuming glucose instead.
Consequently, many cancers are heavily dependent on glucose metabolism for their growth and survival.
CDK8 comes into the picture, because it is the switch that turns on the body’s ability to produce more glucose.
The team found when they switched off CDK8 activity in colorectal cancer cells, the cells failed to activate glycolysis genes and took up much less glucose.
Sure enough, treating cancer cells with drugs that block both CDK8 and glycolysis slowed their growth more effectively than either approach alone.
Joaquin Espinosa, senior author, said: “These are very exciting discoveries.”