Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Growing Growing Gone

Cells, including tumour cells, need oxygen to make vital amino acid aspartate; a clue to targeting cancers

02 September 2018

Growing Growing Gone

Sometimes, garden weeds spring up so too quickly for their own good, gobbling all the soil’s space and resources until they wipe themselves out. Something similar happens in cancerous tumours. In their rush to add new cells to the hyperactively dividing cluster, they devour all available oxygen, depriving inner areas of the tumour. These oxygen-low regions, green in the breast cancer pictured, grow more slowly and tend to resist treatment. To determine why, researchers examined how tumour samples from several patients behaved in low oxygen conditions. They discovered that one amino acid – aspartate – is the key. Cells need oxygen to make it, and without it all sorts of processes grind to a halt. When oxygen-starved tumours couldn’t make aspartate themselves, some were able to absorb it from the surroundings. Preventing tumours producing or acquiring aspartate might be a new way to tackle these tricky sections that evade current cancer treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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