Is Cancer DONe For?

Amidst our modern world we are constantly reaching for new cures for incurable diseases and new treatments for conditions without treatments. While humans have successfully counted most of the illnesses that once plagued our pre-modern ancestors, we have yet to find a one hundred percent effective means of curing one of the most deadly conditions of our world: cancer. Well that used to be the case at least, now may be different. What was once believed to be an ineffective and dangerous way of treating cancer may now be the future in treating stomach-related cancers. What is this treatment? Starving cancer cells of one of its key nutrients: glutamine.

In order to survive, cancer cells have to consume nutrients located in the body, and they eat a lot. This process results in major damage to the host’s body. Their feast starves their environment of oxygen and leaves an acidic swamp the totally prevents immune cells from eliminating them. One of the key nutrients that cancer cells seem unable to live without is the amino acid glutamine. The amino acid glutamine plays a vital role in the construction of molecules such as proteins, lipids and DNA. A recent study revealed that a new drug has the ability to prevent cancer cells from eating glutamine and it also the ability to stimulate immune cells that then attack cancer cells.

Saying “new drug” however, may not be entirely accurate. This new drug is actually a revised version of a failed drug that was originally tested in the 1950’s. Originally, the drug was intended to perform the same function as the drug they are using now, to make cancer cells dependence on glutamine be its stumbling block. The original experiments saw the creation of DON, a bacteria-derived compound. This drug was able to deactivate several enzymes that allowed cancer cells to consume glutamine. DON never saw use pass clinical trials however, as it resulted in vomiting and nausea in most of the subjects.

Now, a new version of DON has been created and this version is much easier for subjects to digest. This revamped project has been spearheaded by immunologist Jonathan D. Powell, who works at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Powell and his team found major success when testing their new compound on mice with four different kinds of tumors. In most cases the team saw positive results in the tumor treatments. In a more specific example, mice with colon cancer received DON and subsequently the tumors shrunk and disappeared for the most part. On the other hand though, a pressing concern that the research team has is the drug might not just target glutamine. It may affect and destroy normal cells in the process of destroying the cancer cells.

Whether or not this new drug will come into play on the world stage is still unknown. But what is known is that more testing will be needed to see if the drug is safe for commercial use. No matter the outcome, these are steps we as a society need to be taking towards beating cancer once and for all.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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