Chemistry and Biochemistry

Starving Cancer

Posted: Apr 19, 2013

What if we could starve cancer? Dr. Josh Andersen aims to do just that, with his team of eight students and a slew of tumors in petri dishes.

“If we can prevent tumors from using energy, we can basically starve them and the tumors die,” Andersen said.

All cells have a metabolism that uses energy, typically in the form of glucose. But tumors use this energy in a fairly unique way. Andersen’s team hopes to inhibit proteins involved in tumor metabolism with the hope of starving the cancer cells.

Because metabolic proteins are used differently in tumors, Andersen hopes that they can create drugs that target only these proteins without hurting other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy, in theory, should be more effective at killing tumors if the tumors are unable to sustain themselves because these proteins are inhibited.

“In reality, there are always side effects to any treatment, ” Andersen said. “But the Holy Grail is to design therapies that target tumors and spare other tissues in the body. It is our hope that by gaining an understanding of the unique aspects of tumor metabolism, we can get closer to that ultimate goal.”

Andersen has been studying cancer metabolism for the past seven years. This year, he wrote an article for Molecular Cell ( outlining most of the research done so far on the topic of cancer metabolism. He also outlined his hopes of where this type of research should be headed.

“This is a very exciting time in the field of tumor metabolism. Clinicians and scientists alike are developing strategies to target tumor metabolism as we speak. But at the same time, we still have a lot to learn,” Andersen said.

By Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences