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MIT researchers discover an unexpected twist in cancer metabolism
Date:9/16/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In a paper appearing in the Sept. 16 online edition of Science, Matthew Vander Heiden assistant professor of biology and member of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and researchers at Harvard University report a previously unknown element of cancer cells' peculiar metabolism. They found that cells can trigger an alternative biochemical pathway that speeds up their metabolism and diverts the byproducts to construct new cells.

The finding could help scientists design drugs that block cancer-cell metabolism, essentially starving them of the materials they need to grow and spread. Vander Heiden has just begun tests in mice of several such drugs.

Just as trees can be turned into logs to build a new house, or firewood to generate heat, sugar can serve many purposes. In a normal cell, most of the sugar is burned up for energy, with little left over to build anything new. Cancer cells, on the other hand, need building blocks for new cells as well as energy.

"If you have a forest of trees, you can take all the trees and burn them and release a lot of energy, but you haven't built anything," says Vander Heiden. "To build a house out of it, you need to save some logs to turn them into lumber."

Most human cells burn a six-carbon sugar called glucose. Through a long chain of reactions that require oxygen, the cells extract energy from the sugar and store it in molecular energy packets known as ATP. Cells use ATP to power a variety of functions, such as transporting molecules in and out of the cell, contracting muscle fibers and maintaining cell structure.

Glucose metabolism normally occurs in two stages, the first of which is known as glycolysis. It has been known for decades that cancer cells perform gylcolysis only, skipping the second stage, which is where most of the ATP is generated.

Vander Heiden's new study focuses on glycolysis, traditionally thought t
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Contact: Jennifer Hirsch
jfhirsch@mit.edu
617-253-1682
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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