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Scientists Block Cancer Cell’s Energy in Bid for New Treatment

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Scientists have found a way to disrupt the energy in cancer cells in people with hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer (HLRCC).

HLRCC is an inherited disorder where individuals develop benign tumors that contain smooth muscle tissue (leiomyomas). Growths occur in the skin and female persons affected by the disorder also have them in their uterus. Most of these women also develop uterine fibroids.

The number of tumors in the skin increases over time and they can be numerous and sometimes painful to touch.

10 to 16 percent of people with HLRCC go on to develop a kidney cancer called renal cell cancer.

Symptoms of Renal Cell Cancer:

• Low back pain
• Blood in the urine
• A mass in the kidney that is felt during a doctor’s examination.

However, the condition is very rare and has only been diagnosed in 100 families in the world.

Cells cannot grow without energy, they need it in order to grow and divide. This energy is generated through a process called the TCA cycle which is supported by various enzymes. Without the enzymes, the cycle stops, causing the cells to die. However, in HLRCC, one of the enzymes is missing and even without it kidney cancer cells are still able to survive. The researchers found that these cells were able to get around the loss of the TCA cycle by switching to a pathway that builds and breaks down a molecule called heme, an important by-product of the TCA cycle.

By blocking the action of the heme, they were able to target the cancer cells while leaving the healthy kidney cells unaffected.

Professor Eyal Gottlieb, lead researcher at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, UK, said, “By using the latest chemistry and computer technologies we were able to look at every energy generating reaction taking place in the cell and predict the effect of blocking these pathways. Armed with this knowledge we now need to confirm our findings in HLRCC patients and ultimately develop targeted drugs that selectively kill kidney cancer cells.

“We also want to use our approach to find other pathways and expose weaknesses in cancer cells that could be exploited, suggesting a whole new range of drugs to kill cancer cells.”

Dr Julie Sharp, from Cancer Research UK, said, “These latest results show us that the adaptation that the cancer cells use to survive could also be exploited as a weakness, and potentially lead to the design of new treatments.
“Recent research has found that levels of Fumarate Hydratase are also reduced in other types of kidney cancer, suggesting that if they are using the same pathway to generate energy then a drug to block this process could be used to treat a wider range of people with kidney cancer.”


Blocking cancer cell's energy generator could lead to new targeted treatments, Cancer Research UK. Web. 20 August 2011.

HLRCC - Genetics Home Reference, Genetics Home Reference - Your guide to understanding genetic conditions. Web. 20 August 2011.

Reviewed August 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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