Health and Medicine

Amino Acid, Not Glucose, Powers the Growth of Cancer Cells

Cancer Cells
An artists perception of a cancer cell dividing (Image Credits: MIT)

Uncontrollable growth is one of the most alarming aspects that the doctors often associate with carcinogenic cells. The ability of these malignant cancer cells to rapidly swell in numbers has been the focal point of several medicinal research papers.

Glucose is regarded as the main culprit for the unrestrained growth of cancer cells, but a recent research conducted by the MIT biologists has shifted the blame to amino acids instead.

The research was carried out to understand exactly what goes into the composition of new cancer cells. They focused on determining the source from which these cells are getting the nutrients and energy needed for multiplying themselves. Surprisingly, they discovered that it was not glucose, but actually the amino acid that act as the primary building block for the new cancer cells.

The research reveals minute details of cancer cells metabolism, including the molecular biosynthesis and cellular proliferation. The team has performed a quantitative assessment of the contributions of different molecules in building up the carbon atoms found in the cells. While glucose still accounts for around 10-15 percent of the carbon production, the amino acids contribute roughly about 20-40 percent of the total carbon mass.

The study provides a conclusive evidence that amino acid is the most needed substance to keep the cancer cells growing. In other words, without amino acid, it may not be possible for the cancer cells to sustain their normal growth rate. This gives rise to the possibility of treating cancer cells by means of amino acid deprivation.

The theoretical benefit of this technique could be limited to controlling the pace at which the cancer cells grow. But the MIT research team is aiming for something more significant. They are now pursuing a more comprehensive research to understand the role that glucose plays to help the cancer cells in using amino acid.

If they succeed in establishing a link between the two, then it could potentially lead to the introduction of an improved treatment regime for the cancer patients. Moreover, the scientists are also hoping that further research on cancer cell metabolism would pave way for new drugs that can restrict their ability to grow uncontrollably.

Study was published in the journal Developmental Cell.