May 26 (UPI) -- A new study by The University of Texas at Dallas has found an unexpected connection between glucose, or sugar, and certain types of cancer.
Researchers analyzed data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, which examines data on 33 types of cancer from more than 11,000 patients, and found that a protein responsible for transporting glucose into cells was found in higher levels in the non-small cell lung cancer squamous cell carcinoma, or SqCC, than in adenocarcinoma, or ADC.
"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," Dr. Jung-whan Kim, an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas, said in a press release.
The protein responsible for transporting glucose is called glucose transporter 1, or GLUT1, and takes glucose into cells where it is used as an energy source and is responsible for cell metabolism.
"Prior to this study, it was thought that the metabolic signatures of these two types of lung cancers would be similar, but we realized that they are very different," Kim said. "These findings lend credence to the idea that cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases that have very different characteristics."
Researchers showed that elevated GLUT1 is linked to SqCC's need for sugar.
"We looked at this from several different experimental angles, and consistently, GLUT1 was highly active in the squamous subtype of cancer," Kim said. "Adenocarcinoma is much less dependent on sugar. Our study is the first to show systematically that the metabolism of these two subtypes are indeed distinct and unique."
Researchers investigated the impact of a GLUT1 inhibitor in isolated lung cancer cells and mice with both types of non-small cell lung cancer.
"When we gave GLUT1 inhibitors to mice with lung cancer, the squamous cancer diminished, but not the adenocarcinoma," Kim said. "There was not a complete eradication, but tumor growth slowed. Taken in total, our findings indicate that GLUT1 could be a potential target for new lines of drug therapy, especially for the squamous subtype of cancer."
The study was published in Nature Communications.