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Lactic acid found to fuel tumors
Date:11/20/2008

DURHAM, N.C., and BRUSSELS, BELGIUM A team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the Universit catholique de Louvain (UCL) has found that lactic acid is an important energy source for tumor cells. In further experiments, they discovered a new way to destroy the most hard-to-kill, dangerous tumor cells by preventing them from delivering lactic acid.

"We have known for more than 50 years that low-oxygen, or hypoxic, cells cause resistance to radiation therapy," said senior co-author Mark Dewhirst, DVM, Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology and pathology at Duke. "Over the past 10 years, scientists have found that hypoxic cells are also more aggressive and hard to treat with chemotherapy. The work we have done presents an entirely new way for us to go after them."

Many tumors have cells that burn fuel for activities in different ways. Tumor cells near blood vessels have adequate oxygen sources and can either burn glucose like normal cells, or lactic acid (lactate). Tumor cells further from vessels are hypoxic and inefficiently burn a lot of glucose to keep going. In turn, they produce lactate as a waste product.

Tumor cells with good oxygen supply actually prefer to burn lactate, which frees up glucose to be used by the less-oxygenated cells. But when the researchers cut off the cells' ability to use lactate, the hypoxic cells didn't get as much glucose.

For the dangerous hypoxic cells, "it is glucose or death," said Pierre Sonveaux, professor in the UCL Unit of Pharmacology & Therapeutics and lead author of the study, published in the Nov. 20 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. He formerly worked with Dr. Dewhirst at Duke.

The next challenge was to discover how lactate moved into tumor cells. Because lactate recycling exists in exercising muscle to prevent cramps, the researchers imagined that the same molecular machinery could be used by tumor cells.

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Contact: Mary Jane Gore
mary.gore@duke.edu
919-323-0179
Duke University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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