SCIENTISTS have found a new way to fight the deadliest cancer by blocking its energy supply.
The Institute of Cancer Research in London has found that pancreatic tumors can “switch their diet” to feed on a chemical called uridine when they run out of sugar.
Developing drugs that deprive them of their vital source of energy could improve treatment and increase survival.
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate in England, killing nine out of ten patients within five years.
About 10,500 Britons contract it each year and there are 9,600 deaths each year.
Actors Alan Rickman and Patrick Swayze are among the prominent victims.
Experiments in mice found that turning off a gene called UPP1 could prevent pancreatic tumors from converting uridine into energy.
When scientists did so, tumor growth in the animals was “largely halted.”
They hope that the same tactic will work in humans and that it could be used to fight other types of cancer, such as lung, stomach and brain cancer.
Professor Kristian Helin, head of the Cancer Research Institute, said: “People with pancreatic cancer often have a bleak prognosis, so there is an urgent need for new advances in treating this aggressive disease.”
“It’s exciting that this new study has found that pancreatic cancer patients can make dietary changes and may be dependent on a specific RDF.
“We hope we can use this to find ways to treat the disease more effectively.”
Uridine is naturally made in the body and is used to carry genetic information and maintain healthy metabolism and brain function.
Scientists wrote in the journal Nature that they had found that cancer patients had a worse chance of survival if they had large amounts of the UPP1 enzyme, which breaks down uridine into sugar.
The co-leader of the study, Dr. Costas Lyssiotis from the University of Michigan added: “These very exciting results open up new avenues to treat a cancer for which there are currently no effective treatments.”
“We can target the fact that pancreatic cancer cells may depend on uridine for their growth and survival.”
dr Chris Macdonald, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “This work is extremely novel, potentially very impactful and really exciting.”
“We are very hopeful that these findings could lead to new and improved treatments for pancreatic cancer in the future.”