New anti-cancer drug looks promising in lab, study finds



MUCH of research to beat cancer tends to concentrate on the various genetic mutations behind different cancers. Now, a new study in the journal Cancer Cell takes a different approach – it targets the pathways that hungry cancer cells use to satisfy their voracious appetite for energy.

The drug killed cancer cells by shutting off their two preferred sources of energy without harming healthy cells. Cancer cells grow fast and divide, and to do this they rely on preferred ways of getting energy – even if other means are available. The idea of foiling cancer by undermining the way it uses energy differently to healthy cells is not new, but it has received more attention lately.

For their study, researchers at Saint Louis University, MO, focused on two metabolic pathways that senior author Thomas Burris, professor and chair of pharmacology and physiology, says cancer cells are “addicted to.” “They need tools to grow fast,” explains Prof. Burris, “and that means they need to have all of the parts for new cells and they need new energy.”

One pathway that cancer cells use to make the parts they need, is called the Warburg effect, which ramps up use of glucose, and the other is called lipogenesis, whereby the cells can make their own fats for rapid growth.

SR9243 shuts off cancer cells’ preferred fat and sugar energy sources In their study paper, the team explains how a small molecule that selectively targets these two pathways stopped cancer cell growth in cultured tumor cells in the lab and in human tumor cells grown in animals without harming healthy tissue or inducing weight loss, inflammation or liver damage.

The small molecule – called SR9243 – started off as an anticholesterol drug candidate. The drug targets fat synthesis in cells so they can’t produce their own fat.

It also suppresses abnormal glucose consumption and cuts off cancer cells’ energy supply. The molecule stops these two processes by turning down the genes that drive them.

Denied their favorite fat and sugar energy sources, the cancer cells cannot make the parts they need to thrive and die. The researchers say that because the Warburg effect is not a feature of normal cells and because most normal cells can get their fat from outside, SR9243 only kills cancer cells and does not harm healthy cells.

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