UK scientists have discovered how blocking a key controller of energy production in cancer cells and treating them with a diabetes drug, metformin, effectively starves cancer cells. The research1 is published today (Sunday) in Nature Cell Biology.
One of the key characteristics of cancer cells is their ability to divide and grow quickly. To do this they need to switch to a method of producing energy rapidly, which breaks down glucose in a process called glycolysis. By doing this they generate the energy and raw materials needed to create new cells.
The researchers found that this switching is controlled by a protein complex called NF-kB, which controls the balance between different types of energy generation. When glucose supplies run short, NF-kB moves energy generation to an alternative process that doesn’t rely on glucose. But blocking NF-kB in cancer cells leaves them unable to make this switch and so they ultimately die.