Putting cancer on a metabolic diet

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

How do cancer cells form, or, more importantly, what can we do to slow or restrict their growth?

Russell Jones, professor of Physiology in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, has found that one possibility may be to regulate enzyme levels in the cancer cells themselves. Because enzymes are responsible for so many of the chemical reactions that take place in a cell, increasing or decreasing their levels can have a profound effect on the cell’s ability to proliferate.

A study Jones conducted with his research team pinpointed one enzyme in particular, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), as a potential “metabolic tumor suppressor.” The presence or lack of AMPK in a cell sends signals to the cell’s metabolic networks, Jones explains. “For cancer cells with low AMPK levels, their metabolism goes into overdrive. They use sugar more efficiently, allowing them to grow faster. These results suggest that turning on AMPK in cancer cells may be one way that we can restrict cancer growth.”

Jones’ team focused specifically on the blood cancer lymphoma but, as the team notes in its article, recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, “reduced AMPK activity has been detected in primary human breast cancer,” and there are links between AMPK levels and ovarian and gastric cancer cells as well.

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