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Study helps explain fundamental process of tumor growth
Date:3/12/2008

BOSTON Nearly 80 years ago, scientist Otto Warburg observed that cancer cells perform energy metabolism in a way that is different from normal adult cells. Many decades later, this observation was exploited by clinicians to better visualize tumors using PET (positron emission technology) imaging. But it has not been known exactly how tumor cells perform this alternate metabolic feat, nor was it known if this process was essential for tumor growth.

Now, two papers appearing in the March 13 issue of the journal Nature help answer these questions. Led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School, the papers find that the metabolic process that has come to be known as the Warburg effect is essential for tumors rapid growth, and identifies the M2 form of pyruvate kinase (PKM2), an enzyme involved in sugar metabolism, as an important mechanism behind this process. This discovery could provide a target for the development of future cancer therapies.

With this study we have answered a fundamental question regarding the ability of tumor cells to rapidly grow and proliferate, explains senior author Lewis Cantley, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center at BIDMC and Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.

Metabolic regulation in rapidly growing tissues, such as fetal tissue or tumors, is different from that of normal adult tissue, Cantley explains. Through aerobic glycolysis, or the Warburg effect, cancer cells produce energy by taking up glucose at much higher rates than other cells while, at the same time, using a smaller fraction of the glucose for energy production. This allows cancer cells to function more like fetal cells, promoting extremely rapid growth. This unique metabolic property of cancer cells has led to the success of PET imaging as a means of cancer detection; because radioactive glucose injected into patients prior to the imaging exam is preferentially taken up by gluco
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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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