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Could cancer cells’ sugar addiction be their undoing?

July 31, 2013
Courtesy of the Uni­vers­ity of South­amp­ton
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists are work­ing on a new way to treat breast can­cer by tar­get­ing can­cer cells’ hab­it of over-indulging in sug­ar.

That of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to chem­o­ther­a­py, as it tar­gets the ac­tive can­cer cells and not nor­mal cells, re­duc­ing the risk of harsh side ef­fects, re­search­ers say.

Jer­e­my Blay­des of the Uni­vers­ity of South­amp­ton, U.K., found in a new study that chem­i­cals called cy­clic pep­tide in­hibitors can stop ‘sweet toothed’ can­cer cells from grow­ing and mul­ti­ply­ing. They do this by block­ing pro­teins in the cells called CtBPs, for C-terminal bind­ing pro­teins.

Many can­cer cells gorge on sug­ar from the blood, greedily pro­cess­ing it as a fu­el sup­ply, Blay­des said. As part of the pro­cess, he explained, those pro­teins to bind to­geth­er, form­ing pairs known as di­mers that en­a­ble cells to grow and mul­ti­ply out of con­trol.

Blay­des and col­leagues de­vel­oped var­i­ous chem­i­cals de­signed to block the dimers from form­ing and chose the most ef­fec­tive chem­i­cal, called CP61, for fur­ther re­search. “Be­cause this is an en­tirely new ap­proach to treat­ment, the drugs we are de­vel­op­ing could be ef­fec­tive against breast can­cers that have be­come re­sist­ant to cur­rent chemother­a­pies,” Blay­des said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite great im­prove­ments in breast can­cer treat­ment in re­cent years, chem­o­ther­a­py-re­sist­ance even­tu­ally hap­pens in around one in five cas­es,” he added. “To over­come this re­sist­ance, in­no­va­tive treat­ments that use new ap­proaches to stop can­cer from grow­ing are des­per­ately needed.

“What makes this dis­cov­ery even more ex­cit­ing as a po­ten­tial treat­ment is that CtBPs are mostly only ac­tive in the can­cer cells, so block­ing this ‘sweet tooth’ should cause less dam­age to nor­mal cells and few­er side ef­fects than ex­ist­ing treat­ments,” he went on. “This work is at an early stage in the lab­o­r­a­to­ry but it is really ex­cit­ing as it has the po­ten­tial to de­liv­er a com­pletely new kind of can­cer drug, which could be avail­a­ble with­in 10 years.”

The find­ings are pub­lished in the Au­gust is­sue of Chem­i­cal Sci­ence.


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Scientists are working on a new way to treat breast cancer by targeting cancer cells’ habit of over-indulging in sugar. That offers an alternative to chemotherapy, as it targets the active cancer cells and not normal cells, reducing the risk of harsh side effects, researchers said. Jeremy Blaydes of the University of Southampton, U.K., found in a new study that chemicals called cyclic peptide inhibitors can stop ‘sweet toothed’ cancer cells from growing and multiplying. They do this by blocking proteins in the cells called CtBPs, for C-terminal binding proteins. Many cancer cells gorge on sugar from the blood, greedily processing it as a fuel supply, Blaydes said. This causes the proteins to bind together, forming pairs known as dimers that enable cells to grow and multiply out of control. Blaydes and colleagues developed various chemicals designed to block the dimers from forming and chose the most effective chemical, called CP61, for further research. “Because this is an entirely new approach to treatment, the drugs we are developing could be effective against breast cancers that have become resistant to current chemotherapies,” Blaydes said. “Unfortunately, despite great improvements in breast cancer treatment in recent years, chemotherapy-resistance eventually happens in around one in five cases,” he added. “To overcome this resistance, innovative treatments that use new approaches to stop cancer from growing are desperately needed. “What makes this discovery even more exciting as a potential treatment is that CtBPs are mostly only active in the cancer cells, so blocking this ‘sweet tooth’ should cause less damage to normal cells and fewer side effects than existing treatments,” he went on. “This work is at an early stage in the laboratory but it is really exciting as it has the potential to deliver a completely new kind of cancer drug, which could be available within 10 years.” The findings are published in the August issue of Chemical Science.