Melbourne | Starving cancer cells of a vital supply route that they use to obtain nutrients could lead to new safer treatments to stop the growth of tumours, a new study has found. Scientists blocked gateways through which the cancer cells were 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 Stefan Broer 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, said Broer. Crucial white blood cells, which current treatments damage, could be spared, and it could cut out the hair loss that chemotherapy causes, he said. There are 917 different types of cancer currently identified, and many cures work only for a single type of the disease or become ineffective as cancers develop resistance to chemotherapy.
However, researchers 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. They first attempted a glutamine blockade by genetically altering cancer cells to disable their main glutamine transporter.
However, it was not very effective, Broer 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 researchers had disabled the second gateway by turning off the biochemical alarm with a technique known as RNA silencing, the cells’ growth reduced by 96 per cent.