Researchers have found that depriving cancer cells of an essential nutrient could offer a promising new approach for the treatment of an aggressive form of kidney cancer. Focusing their research on the kidney cancer renal cell carcinomas, the researchers discovered that majority of these cancer cells rewire their metabolism in a way that leaves them addicted to an outside nutrient called cystine.
By depriving the cancer cells of the amino acid cystine, the researchers were able to trigger a form of cell death called necrosis in mouse models of the disease.
“We found that the same machinery that makes these tumours so aggressive also makes them vulnerable to nutrient deprivation,” said senior study author Jen-Tsan Ashley Chi, associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, US.
“It is like we are beating it at its own game,” Chi noted.
The findings appeared online in the journal Cancer Research.
Chi said the study points to a promising new approach for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma, a form of kidney cancer that has historically been very difficult to cure. About three-fourths of renal cell carcinoma cases are marked by a missing VHL tumour-suppressor gene, which keeps healthy cells from developing into tumours.
The researchers decided to investigate how this single genetic change could affect the metabolism and nutrient requirement of cancer cells. They subjected the cancer cells to a nutrient deprivation test, removing each of the 15 amino acids from their growth media, one by one. Most of the time, the cells weathered the change quite well, slowing down their growth but otherwise remaining healthy.
But the researchers found that when cystine was removed, the cells swelled up and floated to the surface, a sure sign of necrotic death