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Promise and Progress - Colon Cancer Needs a Sugar Fix

Leading the Way Fall 2009 Winter 2010

Colon Cancer Needs a Sugar Fix

By: Valerie Mehl
Date: December 1, 2009

Science Express, August 6, 2009

Starving colon cancer cells of sugar may make them die—not the kind of sugar bought in the grocery store, but the nutrient glucose, a critical component, or fuel, of normal cellular function. Researchers in our Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics found that colon cancer cells hijack a gene called GLUT1, to improve their ability to soak up
glucose, allowing them to grow and thrive in sugar-depleted environments that would otherwise be inhospitable to cell growth.

“We think increased GLUT1 is a survival adaptation that makes cancer cells very efficient at gathering what little circulating sugar exists in the nutrient-scarce inner layers of tumor cells,” says Nickolas Papadopoulos, Ph.D.

Specifically cancer cells with the common cancer-associated KRAS and BRAF gene mutations were found in laboratory studies to survive in sugar-depleted environments
while cells without these mutations died. As a result, mutant cells become the predominant cell. “These gene mutations clearly give colon cancer cells the ability to grow,” says

In mice, the team used an experimental drug that blocks glucose metabolism to stop cancer growth without any toxic side effects. The investigators are working to further develop this therapy.

Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy and is produced from carbohydrates. The research team cautions that limiting the consumption of dietary sugar will not impact cancer development and growth.

The research was funded by the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research and National Institutes of Health.