It’s well known that chemotherapy helps fight cancer. It’s also known that it wreaks havoc on normal, healthy cells. Michigan State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists have discovered a way to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients as they receive chemotherapy. By adding thymine, a natural building block found in DNA, into normal cells, they found it stimulated gene production and caused them to multiply. The opensource study is published in the journal Molecular Cell.
The team state that in most cases, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy lose their fast-growing normal cells, including hair, nails and lining of the gut. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand the differences between normal versus cancer cells if the medical community wants to improve cancer therapy while minimizing the harsh side effects.
Thymine is made from sugar in the body and is necessary to make DNA. The research team wanted to understand how fast-growing normal cells metabolize sugar and other nutrients to stimulate growth compared to fast-growing cancer cells.
They were surprised to discover that when a shared protein, found in both normal and cancer cells, was removed from the healthy ones, it stopped growth. Previous studies have shown that deleting this protein, known as PKM2, from the cancer cells has no effect on cancer growth. When the team deleted the protein, they found it caused healthy cells to stop making DNA. However, when the team added thymine, normal cells began multiplying and producing DNA again.
The researchers view this as a positive step in finding ways to boost healthy cell production, but indicate that more needs to be known on the effect thymine might have on cancer cells. Adding that they want to stop cancer cells from growing, not stimulate them to proliferate.
The team hope the next phase of their research will help answer this question and also reveal more on what to target in order to stop cancer cell production.
The team summise that to selectively stop cancer growth while avoiding side effects including hair loss and vomiting, they need to identify a second target in cancer cells, in addition to PKM2, while providing normal cells with a supplement like thymine.
Source: Michigan State University
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