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Low Sugar Level Helps Virus Attack Cancer


Oncolytic viruses have the capability to attack malignant tumors without damaging the adjacent healthy cells. First, the virus invades the cancer cells; then, it multiplies, ultimately destroying the malignancies. Clinical trials are underway to determine the efficacy of oncolytic viruses in cancer treatment.

In the laboratory, cancer cells are typically preserved in high temperatures and on diets of their energy source: sugar. However, in a study published in Cancer Research, scientists proposed mimicking conditions of the human body and lowering the glucose levels surrounding cancer cells, thereby manipulating cancer cells' metabolism and making them weaker, which could allow for oncolytic viruses to more easily kill cancer cells.

Once glucose levels were lowered, scientists discovered without their energy source, cancer cells were decimated by the oncolytic virus. Scientists took the research one step further and decided to add in a drug that inhibited cancer cells from metabolizing sugar. The results were astonishing: cancer cells were powerless to resist the increasing ability of the oncolytic virus to invade and multiply.

"Our research in the lab showed that restricting the amount of sugar available to cancer cells makes these cancer-attacking oncolytic viruses work even better. We already know that this virus is effective against cancer—and this sugar-starving technique is a way to make it even better," explained Arthur Dyer, the study's lead author and Cancer Research UK-funded PhD student from the University of Oxford.

This technique could potentially shape future drug treatments.

However, cutting out sugar from your diet will not prevent or eliminate cancer. The sugar pathway needs to be targeted in order to see results, and the only way to potentially do that is by administering a drug.

"By making treatments work more effectively, we hope that patients will be able to see positive results faster than before. The next step is to test whether this approach works in clinical trials and to find out which cancers respond best," theorized Dr. David Scott, Cancer Research UK's Director of Discovery Research.

For More Information

Dyer A, Schoeps B, Frost S, et al (2018). Antagonism of glycolysis and reductive carboxylation of glutamine potentiates activity of oncolytic advenoviruses in cancer cells. J Cancer Res. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-18-1326

Image courtesy of Yikrazuul 

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