A new scientific study claims to have discovered a hithero unrecorded aspect of metabolic transformation in breast cancer cells – the process whereby tumour cells adapt and survive under conditions that would kill normal cells.
The research – carried out by the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) – found that breast cancer cells can thrive when deprived of their usual diet of glucose (sugar) and oxygen by turning to fatty acids for energy generation.
Researchers used an anticancer drug called rapamycin to block a molecular signalling pathway within breast cancer cells that stimulates sugar metabolism. However, instead of dying of starvation, the cells continued to multiply.
Lead author of the study, Dr Tak Mak, said: "Our results demonstrate that a protein not previously associated with breast cancer is involved in helping these cells to adapt to starvation conditions and to continue their uncontrolled growth."
“These findings represent an important stepping stone to developing targeted therapies that can block cancer cells from adapting to environmental challenges and surviving efforts to kill them."