Study shows starving cancer cells of key nutrient slows tumour growth

December 18, 2012
Study shows starving cancer cells of key nutrient slows tumour growth

Depriving cancer cells of a key amino acid dramatically cuts their ability to grow and multiply, according to a new Cancer Research UK study published in Nature.

Scientists at Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute looked at how cancer cells are able to survive and continue growing when starved of the amino acid serine. Cells are normally able to make serine themselves, but the team at the Beatson found that tumours lacking the p53 protein – which is faulty in at least half of all cancers – could not adapt to this switch and so grew at a much slower rate.

The p53 protein was first discovered by Cancer Research UK scientists and is often referred to as the 'guardian of the genome' as it halts the growth of damaged cells, activates or triggers .

The findings suggest that by targeting the ways which cancer cells use to generate the energy and needed to grow, new approaches to treat cancers could be developed.

Dr Oliver Maddocks, lead researcher based at Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute, said: "We know that the blocks the growth of cancer cells, but we are increasingly aware that p53 has a 'split personality'. When cells are starved of key nutrients p53 helps them adapt, and could be helping cancer cells survive.  

"Gaining insights of this interplay between cell metabolism and p53 may help us to identify new ways to treat cancer. Reducing the availability of serine to cancer cells, particularly those lacking p53, is a promising new concept, but we're still a long way from knowing whether this could work in patients."

Cancer cells take up large amounts of serine and use it as a building block to quickly grow and generate new cells. This research builds on previous work at the Beatson Institute that found that levels of serine in cancer cells controls a key step in .

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist, said: "This work shows how we're still learning more about the role p53 can play in cancer, 30 years on from its discovery by Cancer Research UK scientists.

"Understanding how are able to generate the extra energy and molecular building blocks to grow rapidly is becoming an important area of research. Disrupting could lead to a whole new arsenal of drugs to treat cancer and Cancer Research UK scientists are at the forefront of this research."  

Explore further: Scientists discover nucleoli damage could kill cancer cells

More information: Maddocks O.D.K., Berkers C.R., Mason S.M., Zheng L., Blyth K., Gottlieb E. & Vousden K.H. (2012). Serine starvation induces stress and p53-dependent metabolic remodelling in cancer cells, Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11743

Related Stories

Scientists discover nucleoli damage could kill cancer cells

November 8, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Damaging a cell’s nucleolus could destroy cancer cells by increasing levels of the most important tumour prevention protein, p53, reveals research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute ...

New drug shrinks cancer in animals, study shows

April 6, 2011
A study led by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center showed in animal studies that new cancer drug compounds they developed shrank tumors, with few side effects.

Recommended for you

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

Novel CRISPR-Cas9 screening enables discovery of new targets to aid cancer immunotherapy

July 19, 2017
A novel screening method developed by a team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to test the function of thousands of tumor genes in mice—has ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.