Researchers discover that tumors lacking the protein PKCζ are good at surviving when nutrients are scarce—opening a new therapeutic avenue that targets cancer metabolism.
Cancer cells need food to survive and grow. They’re very good at getting it, too, even when nutrients are scarce. Many scientists have tried killing cancer cells by taking away their favorite food, a sugar called glucose. Unfortunately, this treatment approach not only fails to work, it backfires—glucose-starved tumors actually get more aggressive. In a study published January 31 in the journal Cell, researchers discovered that a protein called PKCζ is responsible for this paradox. The research suggests that glucose depletion therapies might work against tumors as long as the cancer cells are producing PKCζ.
PKCζ: critical regulator of tumor metabolism
According to this study, when PKCζ is missing from cancer cells, tumors are able to use alternative nutrients. What’s more, the lower the PKCζ levels, the more aggressive the tumor.
“We found an interesting correlation in colon cancers—if a patient’s tumor doesn’t produce PKCζ, he has a poorer prognosis than a similar patient with the protein. We looked specifically at colon cancer in this study, but it’s likely also true for other tumor types,” said Jorge Moscat, Ph.D., a professor at Sanford-Burnham. Moscat led the study in close collaboration with colleague Maria Diaz-Meco, Ph.D.