A sickly sweet anticancer drug

Cancer cells are well known for liking the simple sugar glucose. Their elevated appetite for glucose is part of the Warburg effect, a metabolic distortion that has them sprinting all the time (glycolysis) despite the presence of oxygen.

A collaboration between researchers at Winship Cancer Institute, Georgia State and University of Mississippi has identified a potential drug that uses cancer cells’ metabolic preferences against them: it encourages the cells to consume so much glucose it makes them sick.

Their findings were published in Oncotarget.

The discovery emerges from an effort to target another critical aspect of cancer biology. When cancer cells outgrow their local blood and oxygen supply, they create a low-oxygen or hypoxic environment. The cancer cells adapt and send out signals to attract new blood vessels. HIF (hypoxia inducible factor) is key to this response; Erwin Van Meir and colleagues have published several papers on the anticancer properties of HIF inhibitors. While optimizing and testing HIF inhibitors, Van Meir and his partners found a compound named 64B that pushes cancer cells to become more metabolically deranged. Dr. Van Meir is a faculty member in the CB, GMB and NS programs.

“In drug treated cells, the cells are burnt out and dying like we floor the gas pedal in a car running out of gas,” says Winship researcher Jing Chen, who has studied cancer cell metabolism extensively, but was not involved in this project. Dr. Chen is a faculty member in the CB and MSP programs.

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