This finding has direct implications for anti-cancer therapy, Tang says, suggesting how current therapy could be both inefficient and lead to resistance in a cell.
"Many cancer drugs focus on pushing the mitochondria to release CC, and not on reducing the nucleotide pool, and our new model suggests that decreasing this pool is essential to produce sensitivity in cancer cells to apoptosis," Tang says.
Cancers that quickly become resistant to therapy, such as melanoma and ovarian tumors, do so because they have found ways to prevent mitochondria from releasing a lot of CC, he says. Tumor cells also don't want to decrease their nucleotide pool, because they need ATP for continued functioning, he says.
"An optimal cancer therapy should combine both strategies," Tang says. "They should maximize release of CC and maximize the decrease of nucleotide levels."
Some chemotherapy drugs, like paclitaxel, cisplatin and etoposide, appear, coincidentally and perhaps inadvertently, to do both, and are very effective for specific cancers, he says. "But based on these new findings, we now have a new theoretical approach that can be used to help in the design of more targeted chemotherapy drugs," Tang says. "This will change the way that scientists now think about the role of nucleotides in cancer therapy."