New cancer treatments could come from researchers' discovery

Researchers from Flinders University have discovered what they call a long-hidden metabolic system in cells. The team says that the discovery could lead to new strategies for cancer treatments in the future. The metabolic system they have discovered is from more than 350 million years ago.The discovery provides a new opportunity to find ways to suppress cell proliferation in the nutrient-poor tumor micro-environment. Researchers for Flingers University worked with scientists at St Vincents Institute in Melbourne and other research centers to see if a metabolic system critical for the regulation of cell growth and proliferation in a yeast called Schizosaccharomyces pombe or S.pombe also occurs in the mammalian cell system.

Scientists on the project say that the yeast became evolutionarily distinct about 350 million years ago and has been confirmed to occur in mammals. The team looked at two major signaling networks that are referred to as the body's fuel gauge. These are a protein called AMP-Kinase or AMPK that regulates cellular energy.

That protein slows cell growth down when there aren't enough nutrients to divide. The team also looked at another protein complex called mTORC1/TORC1. That also regulates cell growth, increasing proliferation when it senses high levels of nutrients, like amino acids, insulin, or growth factors.

The scientists say that the yeast cells "became highly sensitive" to nutrient shortages when the ability of mTORC1 to inhibit AMPK was disrupted. The cells also divided at a smaller size that indicated disruption of normal cell growth regulation. The team says that by uncovering the bi-directional regulation between two major metabolic signaling networks, there is a unique opportunity for therapeutic strategies. The discovery has the potential to help not only cancer treatment, but the treatment of metabolic diseases associated with altered AMPK activity.