A recent study has revealed that cancer cells get 30-60 percent of their fuel from eating their neighbours’ ‘words’.
Researcher Deepak Nagrath from Rice University said their original hypothesis was that cancer cells were modifying their metabolism based on communications they were receiving from cells in the microenvironment near the tumor, but none of them expected to find that they were converting the signals directly into energy.
The results were part of a four-year study by Nagrath, his students and collaborators at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and other institutions about the role of exosomes in cancer metabolism.
His work is the latest in a series of discoveries about cancer metabolism that date to German chemist Otto Warburg’s 1924 discovery that cancer cells produce far more energy from the metabolic process known as glycolysis than do normal cells.
The exosome study began four years ago based upon a growing realisation that exosomes might play a role in regulating cancer metabolism.
First author Hongyun Zhao said a growing body of evidence suggests that exosomes can facilitate crosstalk between cancer cells and other types of cells that are nearby in the microenvironment that surrounds the tumor.
Zhao added their results show that not only do exosomes enhance the phenomenon of the Warburg effect in tumors, but exosomes also contain off-the-shelf metabolites within their cargo that cancer cells use directly in their metabolic processes.
The research is published in the Journal eLife.