New drug starves cancer cells

The idea is to prevent the amino acid glutamine from entering the cancer cells, according to scientists from the University of Sydney and the Centenary Institute, whose research is focusing on melanoma.

Dr Jeff Holst (PhD), who heads the institute’s Origin of Cancer Research Group, said the new therapy works on the cancer cell’s normal, exaggerated biologic processes rather than on the mutations specific to the cancer.

“Cancer cells are quite different to normal cells in terms of how they get and use their energy. Our team has been looking at amino acid transporters – protein pumps – that sit on the surface of cells. We discovered back in 2008 that glutamine pumps, which appear at low levels on healthy cells, are over expressed on cancer cells. 

“It made sense to us that this was something that we could target. If these cancer cells are increasing their glutamine pumps and increasing their nutrient uptake,