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Uncovering Clues to Cancer Growth in the Tumor Microenvironment

July 27, 2018

Researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center are studying how cancer cells modify their environment to thrive better. Their findings were published in Cancer Research, a prestigious scientific journal.

Researcher Sufi Thomas, PhD, a member of KU Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology research program, explains that a tumor is surrounded by many different types of cells. Together, the tumor and cells create a microenvironment that supports cancer growth. In this customized environment, cancer cells consume a significant amount of glucose and produce lactic acid as a byproduct.

Sufi Thomas, PHDDr. Thomas and her team were curious about how the lactic acid was then cleared from the tumor microenvironment. Since cancer-associated fibroblasts comprise a large number of the non-cancerous cells associated with the tumor, they tested the hypothesis that the fibroblasts used lactic acid as a source of energy.

“Cancer cells reduce the ability of surrounding non-cancerous cells, called cancer-associated fibroblasts, to consume glucose, which is a major source of energy. Instead, the fibroblasts generate energy by using lactic acid, a byproduct of cancer cell metabolism,” Dr. Thomas said. “Thus, the cancer cells engineer a metabolic symbiosis with cancer-associated fibroblasts.”

In other words, the cancer cells alter the fibroblasts’ nutrient preferences, so the cancer can grow and thrive. Interfering with the metabolic symbiosis between the tumor and the surrounding cells reduces cancer growth.

Ultimately, the team’s goal is to better understand the molecular mechanisms regulating tumor metabolism, so that a more effective therapeutic approach may be developed.

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