Cancer cells continue to grow and divide. They change their metabolism to continue proliferating throughout the body instead of growing old and dying, as healthy cells do. They are known as the cells that cheat death and these cancer cells had long been a challenge for medical researchers, trying out countless procedures just to prevent this abnormal behavior from occurring by making cancer cells starve from sugar.
One way cancer cells fuel their growth and expansion is by increasing their glucose intake, and researchers are now looking at the possibility of shutting this down to combat their spread.
Glucose is so important to cancer cells because it not only gives them energy, it also guards against the molecules that cause natural cell death. If that glucose is removed, the cancer cells have their guard down. But it’s not quite as simple as cutting out sugar from your diet, because cancer cells adapt to find alternative fuel sources to build up glucose levels.
A recent study has identified the PARP 14 protein as being responsible for the additional glucose production, and it’s overproduced in virtually every human cancer, but isn’t found in normal, healthy cells.
As The Conversation reports, genetic and molecular tests have shown that reducing PARP 14 levels in cancer cells literally starves them to death.
Scientists have discovered that the level of PARP 14 also influences the chance of patients surviving cancer, and this could help doctors identify the aggressiveness of a particular cancer ahead of time and adjust the treatment accordingly.
While a PARP 14-inhibiting drug is still a long way from becoming a reality at the moment, the findings have the potential to make a huge difference in cancer treatments once the necessary development and testing has been completed. Unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy techniques, a PARP 14 blocker would only affect the cancerous cells, so treatment would be much kinder to the patient’s body.
The authors of the study, published in Nature Communications, believe that processes like chemotherapy would still be necessary, but a drug that targets the protein that cancerous cells rely on would make these cells much more vulnerable to chemo – as a result, doses could be lowered or programs could be shortened.
But then, researchers need to first design a drug that blocks or reduces PARP 14, and then make sure it’s safe and effective for humans, but our understanding of how cancer spreads – and how it can be stopped – is growing all the time, and the PARP 14 discovery could be one of the most important finds yet.
If we can find a way of stopping this over production of PARP 14 we can cure cancer,” says one of the team, Salvatore Papa from the University of London.