Researchers have identified why cancer tumours resist drugs designed to 'starve' tumours

Scientists working at the CNIO institute in Spain have discovered why cancer cells may be resistant to drugs designed to ‘starve’ tumours of the energy and blood supply which allow them to grow.

The research funded by UK charity Worldwide Cancer Research and published this week in the journal Cancer Cell, identified one of the key biochemical mechanisms that allows cancer cells to survive without glucose (an energy supply.)

The scientists discovered a group of proteins that detect whether or not glucose is present and act as a ‘switch’. When food (glucose) is available, tumour cells use one biochemical path to survive and continue to thrive; when there is no glucose, the switch triggers a different path to achieve the same goal, and allow the tumour cells to survive.

Dr Nabil Djouder, researcher at the CNIO and lead author of the paper explained: "Tumour cells are very smart; when one door that seemed essential for their growth and proliferation closes, they open new ones that allow them to adapt to any stress and survive. This is why they develop highly sophisticated mechanisms and learn to survive, and this is why it is so difficult to cure cancer".

In recent years, researchers have been keen to find out why some tumours resist the widely-used anti-angiogenic agents and whose effectiveness is based on their prevention of the growth of the blood vessels that supply the tumour, thus starving the cancer cells of nutrients.  This work demonstrates how cancer cells survive under these conditions and in the centre of a tumour mass where hardly any blood supply can reach them.  These findings are far off any clinical application at the moment, however they represent a key piece of knowledge in the fight against cancer.

Dr Lara Bennett, Science Communication Manager at Worldwide Cancer Research, said: “What Dr Djouder and his team have identified is a key piece in the cancer puzzle, why tumours, even hidden away and cut off from a supply of nutrients can continue to thrive.

The findings confirm what cancer researchers have known for a long time: cancer cells are tough are they are clever. The next steps are to build on this knowledge so that patients can see the benefits to their treatment in the future.”

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