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Biological Chemistry

Death Isn’t Sweet For Tumor Cells

by Carmen Drahl
August 8, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 32

Stymieing sugar delivery could be a way to kill tumor cells while leaving normal cells intact, a multi-institution team reports (Sci. Transl. Med., DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002394). Cancer cells and healthy cells use glucose to obtain energy in different ways, and taking advantage of this difference, called the Warburg effect, to treat cancer is an active area of research. Stanford University School of Medicine’s Amato J. Giaccia and colleagues weren’t initially focused on the Warburg effect. They found that a family of molecules, typified by the sulfonamide STF-31, spared normal cells but killed kidney cancer cells lacking a specific gene called VHL. But STF-31’s target turned out to be GLUT1, a transporter protein that regulates glucose uptake. Normal cells have little GLUT1 and mostly use the transporter GLUT2 instead, which the researchers suggest is the reason for STF-31’s selectivity. Giving STF-31 to mice with tumors lacking VHL slowed tumor growth; other tumors were not affected. The molecule’s glucose-transport-blocking activity can be tracked with positron emission tomography, which the team hopes will help them find out whether targeting GLUT1 can treat kidney cancer.


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