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New Cancer Treatment Targets Stem Cell Metabolism

Drug resistance has long been one of the major challenges in treating cancer. As soon as we come up with a method that works, cancer finds a way to defend against it.

Dr. Max S. Wicha and his team of scientists at the University of Michigan are hoping to avoid this problem. They will use a two-pronged approach that cuts off cancer cells’ energy supply.

The treatment focuses on cancer stem cells. Like other stem cells, this can facilitate the production of a variety of different cell types. Experts believe cancer stem cells play a key role in relapse because radiation or chemotherapy generally do not harm them.

“When we use targeted therapies [like radiation], they often only work for a certain period of time, and then the cancer becomes resistant,” explains Wicha. “A lot of that resistance is from the cancer stem cells. They change form to evade the targeted therapy.”

Previous research shows us that cancer stem cells can switch between a growth phase and a dormant phase. Stem cells during the dormant phase require glucose to survive, while cells in the growth phase depend on mitochondrial activity facilitated by oxygen.

Wicha’s approach blocks glucose and utilizes an existing arthritis medication to suppress mitochondrial activity. This approach has been successful in defeating a mouse model of breast cancer.

“Rather than just try to use toxic chemicals to kill a cell, we use the metabolism of the cell itself to kill the cancer.”

The results of Wicha’s study were published this month in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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