A new approach to fighting pancreatic cancer is targeting cancer metabolism, or how nutrients are broken down for energy. To grow, cancer cells need to produce energy and build blocks for new cancer cells. To do that, cancer cells increase the uptake of nutrients from their environment by overproducing specific transporters or molecules.

3D modeling of cancer cell tumors

Changes in how nutrients are metabolized contribute to both the development and progression of pancreatic cancer, but the complicated relationship between the cancer itself and a patient’s body is not well understood. In previous work, Matthew Vander Heiden, M.D., Ph.D., Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, showed the breakdown of muscle tissue, which is common in pancreatic cancer patients, takes place early in their disease. 

Dr. Vander Heiden discovered muscle breakdown releases branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), and he is now testing how the BCAAs affect the growth of the tumor and the patient’s metabolism. His objectives are to identify targets for new therapies to stop the growth of the cancer and counteract effects of the pancreatic cancer hindering the use of existing therapies.

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