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Cutting off the energy supply

Every living thing needs energy in some form to survive.

In their latest paper, published in the prestigious Nature Cell Biology, Worldwide Cancer Research grantholder Professor Marcos Malumbres and his team at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), propose blocking a tumour’s energy supply as a way of enhancing the effects of a group of cancer drugs called taxanes.

Taxanes include the well-known drug taxol which is originally derived from the bark of a yew tree.  It is now commonly used to treat breast, ovarian, lung, bladder, prostate, melanoma, oesophageal and other cancers.  These findings could therefore potentially benefit a vast number of patients with a wide range of cancers.

CNIO released the following press release about the findings.

Cancer cells become addicted to glucose (sugar). They use it as their regular source of energy to grow and develop rapidly.  The idea then is simple, stop the glucose supply and kill the cancer cells.

Dr Marcos Malumbres, has now proven that blocking glycolysis, the process by which energy is extracted from glucose, is especially damaging to cell division - where the cell splits to form two identical new cells.

Stopping glycolysis enhances the anti-cancer effect of drugs like taxol.  It is basically forcing the cells to need more glucose and, at the same time, preventing them getting it, meaning they die of starvation.

The next step, according to the CNIO team, will be to identify groups of patients who would benefit more from chemotherapy if the tumour’s energy supply was blocked.

It’s still early days, but this is a great example of how research studying the behaviour of cancer cells in the lab can open up new paths to better cancer treatment. If this new understanding can be turned into new treatments – and we wish the CNIO team the best of luck – these findings could benefit a huge number of cancer patients in future.

This work was funded by Worldwide Cancer Research, the Scientific Foundation of the Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC), the Ministry of Economy and Competition, the Community of Madrid, and the European Union.

To find out more read our blog.

The scientific paper can be accessed here.