Cancer eats away at you, they say, and that’s not far from the truth. Cancer grows in exactly that way, by feeding on the body’s nutrients wherever it can find them. Now researchers at Oxford University have identified a protein used by tumors to detect food supplies, and targeting the protein could restrict a cancer’s ability to grow. Dr Deborah Goberdhan and Professor Adrian Harris studied the effects of the protein PAT4. “We found that aggressive cancer cells manufacture more PAT4, which enables them to make better use of available nutrients than the cells around them – including healthy tissue,” commented Goberdhan in an article at the University of Oxford website.
Goberdhan and Harris developed an antibody that highlights PAT4 in human tissue samples, and which was used to examine tumor samples taken from patients with colorectal cancer. Patients with higher levels of PAT4 were more prone to relapse and die, and when the researchers reduced the levels of PAT4 in tumor cells, the cancer growth was slowed. “These findings support each other,” comments Goberdhan. “Not only do higher levels of PAT4 mean a worse outcome, but lowering levels improves the situation. This means that we have identified a mechanism which cancer cells prefer to use and which we might be able to target as part of a combination treatment.”