Cancer cells flourish in our bodies by overcoming significant internal and external stresses and constantly adapting to new environments. Armed with new funding from the Terry Fox Research Institute and partners*, Montreal-based researcher Dr. Vincent Giguère is leading a team at McGill University with the goal of unravelling the mysteries of cancer metabolism to stop cancer in its tracks.
Metabolism is defined as the chemical processes occurring within a living organism or cells that are necessary for life, such as utilizing oxygen and nutrients. Most normal cells in our body get their energy from fatty acids while cancer cells preferentially use the sugar glucose, which makes both energy and building blocks - something fat can’t do as well.
“People have tried for many years now to block the cancer cells from utilizing glucose, and that doesn’t work so well,” says Dr. Giguère, project leader and a professor of biochemistry at the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre. “We have to better understand how cells take up and metabolize glucose and the pathways that are used to enable this process if we are to successfully kill the cancerous cells.”
The team is working on various strategies to block the key metabolic pathways necessary for growth and survival of cancer cells. Interrupting these metabolic processes could prevent cancer from metastasizing or becoming resistant to treatment – two problems that cause 90 per cent of breast cancer deaths.
“Our main goal is to study the relationship between metabolic processes and metastasis in cancer cells,” says Dr. Giguère. “We’re trying to find the metabolic functions that allow cells to survive under stresses such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy as well as adapting to new environments.”
Dr. Giguère says that TFRI is the “prime driver” of this team’s exciting new project, which brings together leading cancer researchers from McGill’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre, including many long-time funded Terry Fox investigators.
“This is a very new aspect of cancer research that we think will be very successful, especially in combating cancer metastasis and the resistance to drugs that are used currently in the clinic,” says Dr. Giguère. “It’s really new and exciting, and there’s a great future for this.”
*The TFRI has committed $4,262,936 for this project, which is also supported with funding from McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Centre ($554,512) and the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation ($500,000), for a total award of $5,317,448.