For more than a century, cancer cell metabolism has been regarded as a puzzle. Recent research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that it may not be an anomaly after all. On August 15, the study was published in Molecular Cell.
Glucose, a common sugar present in the diet, is one of the most important nutrients in the body. It is consumed at an alarming rate by cancer cells. At first glance, this seems fair because cancer cells must synthesise a variety of substances.
Because cancer spreads rapidly, each cell must replicate every component within it. But there’s a catch.
Cancer cells do not make good use of glucose. Instead of collecting every ounce of energy possible from glucose, they squander the vast majority of it.
Gary Patti, the Michael and Tana Powell Professor of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences, as well as genetics and medicine at the School of Medicine, noted that for cells to receive the greatest energy from glucose, its transformation products must be moved into mitochondria. Patti, who works at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine, is the present study’s senior author.
The metabolism is anticipated to follow certain biochemical rules. Patti described her fascination with the many causes malignancies may be allowed to ruin people.
But the results we provide here show that cancer cells do adhere to established rules.
The tiniest compartments inside cells known as mitochondria are frequently referred to as the cell’s power plants or powerhouses. They have strict controls over what enters and leaves them.
To provide some context, in the 1920s a renowned biochemist by name of Otto Warburg made the initial discovery of the wastefulness of tumours. He proposed that damaged mitochondria occur in cancer cells as a solution to the puzzle of why more energy isn’t derived from glucose.
We now understand that this is untrue. In fact, most tumours have functional and active mitochondria, according to Patti. But that doesn’t explain why cancer cells metabolise so little of the glucose they eat in mitochondria, which is a bothersome and enduring conundrum.
hat has perplexed researchers, according to Patti, is the idea that cancer cells choose not to metabolise glucose in their mitochondria. The idea has frequently been that cancer cells desire to use glucose wastefully, whether as a result of Warburg’s original thought or perhaps because it occurs so frequently.
There are a variety of justifications for why cancer cells could desire to waste their glucose. Patti and his group assert that these justifications might not be essential. In the end, scientists may be wrong about how odd cancer metabolism is.
Cancer cells actively metabolise glucose in their mitochondria because they genuinely desire to. as long as they can.
Nearly all of the glucose that is restricted from being absorbed by cancer cells ends up in mitochondria, according to Patti. However, as glucose consumption rises, the rate at which molecules produced from glucose are transported into mitochondria can’t keep up.
In other words, glucose is only wasted away by cancer cells because mitochondrial transport is too sluggish.
Imagine a bathtub faucet that is shooting out water at a rate that exceeds the capacity of the drain. The water eventually overflows onto the floor.
This metabolic paradigm is not entirely new. Most cells do favour oxidising glucose in their mitochondria over excreting it as waste, according to Patti. “Our findings imply that cancer cells are a common occurrence. They resemble other cells in that they seem to follow similar biochemical pathways.
The breakthrough revealed by the Patti team was made possible by the potent technique known as metabolomics.
Patti stated that the last ten years have seen “amazing breakthroughs in the field of metabolomics and mass spectrometry.” “We are currently at a stage where it is even possible to measure chemicals in single cells.”
Metabolomics and stable isotope tracers were used in this study. Researchers were able to tag various components of glucose and monitor them inside cells while also measuring the pace at which chemicals entered mitochondria or were expelled from cells. When scientists realised that cancer cells were outpacing or getting saturated with the typical fuel transport routes, they made this finding.