Several diseases can affect the pancreas. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs. (Photo: reproduction)
Pancreatic cancer cells are able to change their “diet” to keep growing by switching their energy source from glucose to a fuel source called uridine. This is what a new study conducted by scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom and the University of Michigan in the United States, published in the scientific journal Nature, shows.
From their findings, the researchers believe that blocking the availability of uridine through drugs could become a new treatment strategy for pancreatic cancer. In addition, they imagine that the substance can also be a source of energy for other tumors, such as those in the lungs, stomach and brain.
If studies prove this hypothesis, acting on the mechanism could become an unprecedented therapeutic technique for a wide variety of cancer types.
“Cancer cells recover anything available in their environment and use it for their own benefit. We found that the most dangerous form of pancreatic cancer can even change its diet to survive,” says one of the people in charge of the study Anguraj Sadanandam, team leader in cancer systems and precision medicine at the Cancer Research Institute, said in a statement.
“Cancers can feed on a molecule known as uridine as an emergency reserve when they cannot access glucose, which they normally depend on to stay alive.”
The uridine molecule is available throughout the body and is essential for a healthy metabolism, explain the scientists. nonetheless, they did not know that cancer cells could use it to survive in the absence of glucose.
The finding was made possible thanks to a technique called phenotypic microarray, which allows researchers to test thousands of cell characteristics. With this, they could examine the nutrients used by them over time, and observe the presence of uridine.
Cells break down uridine with an enzyme called uridine phosphorylase-1 (UPP1) to produce a different form of sugar, ribose. Thus, they continued to grow, regardless of whether or not they were supplied with glucose, which is the main source.
The researchers then decided to block the UPP1 receptor in mice to observe how the cancer cells would behave. In the tests, inactivating the mechanism prevents the use of uridine, and as a result, the tumor stops growing in certain places.
“Next, we will explore how to use uridine to control the response to existing therapies in pancreatic cancer and hopefully develop new drugs that target UPP1. We hope that our research efforts will lead to new treatment strategies for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” explains Sadanandam.
analyze the samples
During the study, scientists analyzed samples from cancer patients and found a relationship between high UPP1 levels and a worse clinical response to cancer. This was also observed in other types of tumors, suggesting that the discovery is not restricted to pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma – the most lethal form of pancreatic cancer.
“This is very elegant research that demonstrates how we could use cancer’s own growth tactics against itself to develop much-needed new treatments for people with pancreatic cancer. This work is very new, potentially very impactful and really interesting. We are very hopeful that these discoveries can lead to new and improved treatments for pancreatic cancer in the future,” said Chris Macdonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, a center dedicated to the tumor.