All cells in the body depend on nutrients for their survival. Cancer cells are greedier when it comes to getting these nutrients as they need to up their intake to provide more fuel to their survival, growth and spread. Researchers analyzed how nutrient deprivation can eradicate kidney cancer cells.

In the study, the research team blocked the amino acid cystine in renal cell carcinoma. The nutrient deprivation triggered necrosis (cell death) in the mice models that were genetically modified to carry the kidney cancer.

Duke University School of Medicine's Jen-Tsan Ashley Chi, Ph.D. said the same process that makes cancer cells so violent renders them susceptible to nutrient deprivation. The new approach seemed to have beaten the cancer cells in their own game.

The team removed 15 different amino acids from the cancer cell's growth media one by one. Many of the cells survived the test but when cystine was taken out, the cancer cells expanded and then floated to the top. This indicated the cell's necrotic death.

Cystine maintains antioxidants' high levels that deactivate oxygen from the free radicals. When cystine was removed, the cancer cells caused their own death due to free radical damage.

The research presented that the new approach is applicable and successful in both mice models and tissue culture cells. The research was published in the Cancer Research journal on Feb. 1.

Renal cell carcinoma was implanted on the mice models. The team used a cystine-blocking drug called sulfasalazine in the study. Findings also showed that the approach also caused a delay in tumor growth.

Senior author Chi said stronger drugs are required to beat the cancer ultimately; however, he believes that the necrosis-based destruction of cancer calls can lead to promising therapies.

Chi added that most chemotherapies destroy the cancer cells using apoptosis, which is a different killing mechanism, but the cancer cells that managed to escape the apoptosis are the main cause of resistance and further tumor growth.

"Cystine starvation treatments could address resistance by killing cells through a different mechanism," added Chi. The findings can lead to new and better cancer treatments and medication.

Photo: Yale Rosen | Flickr

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