Like any other cell, tumor cells also rely on essential nutrients for their rapid growth and proliferation. Now researchers from Sydney have found an essential nutrient, whose supply when cut off, can result in the slowing down of the progression of prostate cancer cells. This offers an exciting new modality of treatment of prostate cancer, a disease which kills about 3,300 Australians annually.
Dr Jeff Holst, from the Centenary Institute, Sydney, along with his associates, has found that prostate cancer cells are dependent upon leucine, an essential amino acid, for their growth. This nutrient is pumped inside the tumor cells by means of specialized proteins called as L- type amino acid transporters. The prostate tumor cells manage to get more leucine pumped inside them compared to normal cells. Therefore, they grow more rapidly than the other cells. The researchers found that they can disrupt the uptake of leucine by the cancer cells through two mechanisms. In the first method, they targeted the specialized proteins which pump leucine, thereby hampering the flow of leucine from outside to the inside of cancer cells. In the second method, the researchers introduced drugs which competed with leucine for uptake. Both the mechanisms were found to be successful in starving the cancer cells. The findings of the study have been published in the journal “Cancer Research.”
The researchers found that by inhibiting the function of amino acid transporters, they were able to halt the progression of prostate cancer by almost 50%. The researchers plan to carry out more animal trials and begin with human clinical trials within five years. They believe that if successful, the treatment will slow down the growth of prostate cancer to such a rate that surgical removal of the tumor would no longer be necessary. The researchers also believe that the study may provide some clue about the co-relation of prostate cancer to certain diets. They have found that the incidence of prostate cancer is higher in people consuming large portions of red meat and dairy products. It is interesting to note here that these foods are rich in leucine.