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You’ve probably heard the adage, “Feed a fever, starve a cold,” but how would that saying go if you were talking about cancer? A scientific team from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences and Mechanobiology Institute might say you could starve cancer to stop it, based on their new discovery.
Cancer cells are living things, and therefore they need nutrition and energy to grow and reproduce. Research has shown that one way cancer cells get nourishment is from the breakdown of glutamine (an amino acid), a process that is initiated by an enzyme called glutaminase.
Glutamine is one of the few amino acids in the human body that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier. You obtain glutamine through the breakdown of proteins in foods you eat.
The NUS scientists discovered that a drug-lead compound (one that is in preclinical trials as a potential drug) called BPTES has the ability to inhibit the activity of glutaminase, which in turn could deprive the cancer cells of their nourishment and potentially stop tumor growth by starvation. This research represents the first time scientists have produced proof showing how a drug-lead compound can inhibit the formation of tumors.
This new finding provides investigators with critical information they can use to determine whether combining several drugs may be even more effective at suppressing glutaminase activity and thus starve cancer. The researchers also plan to explore ways to optimize the ability of BPTES to inhibit the growth of cancer and reduce the drug’s side effects.