Researchers find way to 'starve' common colon cancer tumors

In experiments with mice, tumors with a common genetic mutation but limited access to glutamine stopped growing without the nutrient.
By Stephen Feller  |  July 21, 2016 at 2:31 PM
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CLEVELAND, July 21 (UPI) -- Researchers at Case Western University may have found a way to take advantage of a mutation in some colon cancer tumors to suppress their growth, according to a new study.

Tumors with a mutation to the gene PIK3CA causes them to break down more glutamine for energy, helping them grow faster, but researchers report that blocking this ability in mice suppressed growth, suggesting a new target for the disease.

The PIK3CA mutation, common to about one-third of all colorectal cancers, occurs in a gene with a pivotal role in cell division and movement.

"In layman's terms, we discovered that colon cancers with PIK3CA oncogenic mutations are addicted to glutamine, a particular nutrient for cancer cells," Dr. Zhenghe John Wang, a professor of genetics and genome science at Case Western University, said in a press release. "We also demonstrated that these cancers can be starved to death by depriving glutamine with drugs."

For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers blocked the availability of glutamine to cancer cells in lab dishes, finding they died.

Testing the effect of the same action in mice with colorectal cancer containing the mutation, the researchers found tumor growth was suppressed consistently, but the growth was not affected in mice with tumors that did not have the mutation.

Based on the study results, the researchers say they plan to start a clinical trial to test the treatment in humans sometime later this summer.

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