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Researchers Make Important Cancer Metabolism Discovery

There are multiple metabolic expression changes associated with cancer. This is according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Centre, whose large study analysing gene expression data from 22 tumour types, published in the online edition of Nature Biotechnology, has also identified hundreds of potential drug targets that could improve your wellness by cutting off your tumour’s fuel supply or interfering with its ability to synthesise essential building blocks.

According to Dennis Vitkup, PhD, associate professor of biomedical informatics (in the Initiative in Systems Biology) at CUMC, and the study’s lead investigator, ‘The importance of this new study is its scope. So far, people have focused mainly on a few genes involved in major metabolic processes. Our study provides a comprehensive, global view of diverse metabolic alterations at the level of gene expression.’

Studies into drugs that interfere with cancer metabolism is a field that dominated cancer research in the early 20th century, and has recently undergone a renaissance. In 1924, German biochemist Otto Warburg was the first to observe that cancer cells had a peculiar way of utilising glucose to make energy for the cell. Dr Vitkup explained, ‘Although a list of biochemical pathways in normal cells was comprehensively mapped during the last century, we still lack a complete understanding of their usage, regulation, and reprogramming in cancer.’

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Jie Hu, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia and first author of the study, added, ‘Right now we have something like a static road map. We know where the streets are, but we don’t know how traffic flows through the streets and intersections. What researchers need is something similar to Google Traffic, which shows the flow and dynamic changes in car traffic.’ However, the researchers did find that tumour-induced expression changes are significantly different across diverse tumours.

Matthew Vander Heiden, MD, PhD, assistant professor at MIT, and a co-author of the paper, commented, ‘Our study clearly demonstrates that there are no single and universal changes in cancer metabolism. That means that to understand transformation in cancer metabolism, researchers will need to consider how different tumour types adapt their metabolism to meet their specific needs.’


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