University of Texas scientists found that some types of cancers have more of a sweet tooth than others.
Dr. Jung-whan “Jay” Kim, senior author of the study, said, it has been suspected that many cancer cells are heavily dependent on sugar as their energy supply, but it turns out that one specific type squamous cell carcinoma is remarkably more dependent.
Researchers initially set out to investigate differences in metabolism between two major subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer adenocarcinoma (ADC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC). About one quarter of all lung cancers are SqCC, which has been difficult to treat with targeted therapies.
The research team first tapped into a large government database called The Cancer Genome Atlas, which maps information about 33 types of cancer gathered from more than 11,000 patients.
Using the data, they found that a protein responsible for transporting glucose a kind of sugar into cells was present in significantly higher levels in lung SqCC than in lung ADC.
The protein glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1), takes up glucose into cells, where the sugar provides a fundamental energy source and fuels cell metabolism. GLUT1 is also necessary for normal cell function, such as building cell membranes.
With elevated GLUT1 implicated in SqCC’s appetite for sugar, the researchers looked for additional evidence by examining human lung tissue and isolated lung cancer cells, as well as animal models of the disease.
The researchers also investigated the effect of a GLUT1 inhibitor in isolated lung cancer cells and mice with both types of non-small cell lung cancer.
When researchers gave GLUT1 inhibitors to mice with lung cancer, the squamous cancer diminished. There was not a complete eradication, but tumor growth slowed.
Researchers said, our findings indicate that GLUT1 could be a potential target for new lines of drug therapy, especially for the squamous subtype of cancer.
In addition to squamous cell lung cancer, the team found that GLUT1 levels were much higher in four other types of squamous cell cancer which are head and neck, esophageal and cervical.
More information: [Nature]