The scientists have recently found a new way to drain cancer’s “fuel tank,” which also restrains cancer’s ability to come back after treatment.
Professor Michael P. Lisanti, Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Unit, said that essentially mitochondria are the “engines” of cancer stem cells and ketone and L-lactate are the high octane fuels, which promote cancer growth.
Cancer stem cells are particularly difficult to eradicate and are at the heart of why it is so hard to more effectively treat cancer patients, as the post-treatment survival of cancer stem cells drives tumour recurrence, the systemic spread of cancer and, ultimately, treatment failure.
The researchers, based at the University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute – both part of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre – investigated the role of mitochondria which produce and release energy within cells. In this context, the new Manchester Centre for Cellular Metabolism (MCCM) also played a critical role in these studies.
By observing cancer stem cells in a lab setting, they discovered that mitochondria are especially important for the proliferative expansion and survival of cancer stem cells, also known as ‘tumour initiating cells’, which would then promote treatment resistance.
Trials run by Cancer Research UK are currently underway using MCT inhibitors, which also target the mitochondria in cancer cells and the researchers believe that this could, if successful, open up new avenues of treatment.