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October 14, 2015

Starving triple-negative breast cancer cells

New research has discovered a way to stop tumour growth by starving cancerous cells of a nutrient called glutamine, which is critical to the process of breast cancer cells growing.

Associate Professor Jeff Holst and his team at the Centenary Institute have shown they can stop breast cancer cells from growing by blocking the proteins that pump this key nutrient into the tumour cells.

Glutamine is abundant in meat and dairy products, but is also produced naturally in the body, so a change in diet is not sufficient to starve the cells. The aim of the NBCF-funded research project is to develop treatments that block the nutrient pumps which allow glutamine to be absorbed by the cancer cells.

Associate Professor Holst said this research also offers new hope for treating the highly aggressive triple negative subset of breast cancer.

“Unlike normal cells, many cancer cells rely on glutamine instead of glucose for the energy they need to divide and grow. We have discovered a way to stop tumours from growing by starving them of this essential nutrient.”

“Not only did we find that triple negative breast cancer cells have more glutamine pumps on their surface, but also that blocking these pumps stopped the tumours from growing.”

This method has now proven to be effective in preventing the growth of melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer cells.

Associate Professor Holst was awarded an Early Fellowship Grant in 2012 to conduct his research, which has shown positive results earlier than expected.