License to Build: New Theory of Cancer Puts Metabolism at Center
Scientists have known for 100 years that cancer cells metabolize nutrients in a unique way, though they haven’t understood why. In a new paper, MSK researchers reconsider the evidence and offer an unorthodox explanation, turning some commonsense wisdom on its head.
Long before Louis Pasteur became famous for proving that diseases were caused by germs, he worked in a beer factory. His job: finding a way to make beer from sugar, hops, and yeast without having the yeast take over the vat, gunking up the beer.
Turns out yeast are very good at converting sugar into more yeast, and nothing Pasteur did could change that — which is why today, most beer is filtered.
This long-familiar fact about beer making is inspiring some unconventional thinking about cancer. In a paper published today in Cell Metabolism, Memorial Sloan Kettering President and CEO Craig Thompson and postdoctoral fellow Natasha Pavlova argue that cancer cells take up and use nutrients much like yeast in a vat of sugar, reproducing with wild abandon. Further, they claim that it’s this altered metabolism of nutrients — rather than any quirk of a disordered cell cycle — that lies at the heart of cancer.
“All of the information that drives the cell cycle — drives cell growth — comes from cells recognizing that they have adequate nutrients,” says Dr. Thompson.
If he’s right, then much of what we think we know about cancer is wrong.