A diabetes drug could kill cancerous cells by effectively “starving” them of energy, scientists have suggested.
By blocking a key controller of energy production in the cells and treating them with metformin, the cells starve and die, researchers from Cancer Research UK found.
Cancer cells are able to split and grow swiftly. They do this through changing to a method of producing energy, which breaks down glucose in a process called glycolysis.
The process is controlled by NF-kB, a protein complex.
When glucose levels run low, this protein switches energy production to a different process that does not rely on glucose. But blocking NF-kB in cancer cells leaves them unable to make this change, effectively starving them to death.
In the lab, the researchers found that they could kill bowel cancer cells by targeting NF-kB.
Lead researcher based at Imperial College London, Professor Guido Franzoso, said: “This is the first time that NF-Kb has been shown to control how cells generate energy.”
- Mauro C, et al. NF-κB controls energy homeostasis and metabolic adaptation by upregulating mitochondrial respiration. Nature Cell Biology 2011; Online early publication