Cancer Cell Death by Starvation

Cancer cells die by inhibiting M2 isoform of pyruvate kinase

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cancer doesn't like oxygen. Unlike humans, this devilish disease thrives in low-oxygen environments. Scientists are taking advantage of this fact to kick cancer cells all the way to kingdom come.

Researchers were able to shrink tumors in mice when they blocked a protein that helps cancer cells grow where oxygen doesn't like to go.

"Always try to increase your fresh vegetable intake."

This enzyme that's called M2 isoform of pyruvate kinase - or PKM2 for short - is jacked up in cancer cells. This protein acts like a generator to pump energy into the nasty, hard-to-breathe infrastructure of tumors.

Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., Institute Professor at David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with MIT Graduate Fellow, Michael Goldberg, Ph.D. have discovered that blocking PKM2 starves and kills cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed.

They found that, "Crippling PKM2 caused established tumors in mice to melt away,"  according to a news release describing the study.

The authors note that if this same cell starvation scenario occurs in humans, the possibilities are impressive. 

This approach could be used to effectively treat all sorts of cancers, with the added benefit of producing only minimal side effects.

The study appears in the January 23, 2012 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

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Review Date: 
January 24, 2012
Last Updated:
January 24, 2012