Skip to main content

Cancer cells in the brain can be starved to death

Researchers have found a way to kill cancer cells in the brain that allows the healthy cells to live.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 10/22/2020

Glioblastoma, i.e. brain cancer, is often difficult to treat efficiently. This is partly because the tumour may be difficult to remove during surgery due to inaccessibility, and partly because the many chemotherapeutic and cancer-inhibiting drugs cannot cross from the blood into the brain, due to the blood-brain barrier.

Research has shown that tumour growth can be inhibited when the amino acid arginine is not available, but the tumour will continue to grow as soon as arginine becomes available again.

However, since arginine is an essential amino acid, the body's healthy cells cannot do without it.

In a new study, published in the journal Cell, in collaboration with colleagues from Poland and Ukraine, researchers from SDU have shown that glioblastoma cancer cells can be starved for arginine while being fed an arginine analogue called canavanine.

The research showed that this combination therapy resulted in the death of glioblastoma cancer cells while healthy cells survived.

The studies were performed in cell cultures of human cells and rat cells and used the advanced mass spectrometry technology for which researchers from SDU are world-famous.

Postdoc Pavel Shliaha and Professor Ole Nørregaard Jensen from SDU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology proved that canavanine can be incorporated into proteins in the cells instead of arginine, whereby healthy cells survive while cancer cells die.

The research in mass spectrometry and protein analysis at SDU is supported by the Lundbeck Foundation, the Villum  Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.