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A team of researchers led by the Francis Crick Institute, working with NPL and Imperial College London, have discovered that breast cancer cells expressing a cancer-driving gene heavily rely on vitamin B5 to grow and survive. The researchers are part of the Cancer Grand Challenges team Rosetta, led by NPL and funded by Cancer Research UK.
In their research published today in Nature Metabolism, the team studied the metabolic effects of one of the major cancer-driving genes called Myc. In tumour cells where Myc is highly expressed, it disturbs normal processes, drives cell growth and also makes tumour cells dependent on certain nutrients.
These dependencies could be exploited as potential therapeutic targets, but it’s hard to appropriately identify and target metabolic dependencies in human tumours, as Myc expression can vary throughout the tumour.
As part of the research, NPL delivered high resolution mass spectrometry imaging showing that vitamin B5 is associated with Myc-high areas of transplanted tumours. This association was also observed in biopsies taken from patients with breast cancer. The team at NPL used a NanoSIMS, a unique imaging mass spectrometer capable of mapping up to 7 isotopic masses simultaneously at high spatial resolution (35 nm) and high mass resolution (m/Δm >10,000).
Although the study links vitamin B5 and tumour growth, it would be too simple to just restrict vitamin B5 intake for people with cancer – vitamins are also important for the immune system to fight back against the tumour. The researchers are now devising strategies to selectively weaken the tumours, without affecting the immune system, to increase the likelihood of a favourable clinical outcome.
Josephine Bunch, Principal Investigator on the Rosetta project and NPL Fellow, said: “We are delighted to support the team at the Francis Crick Institute in their exploration of tumour metabolism. This project has demonstrated the power of collaboration and using multiple modes of analysis to transform our understanding and treatments of cancer.
Greg McMahon, Principal Scientist, NPL said: “This was a wonderful collaborative effort where the NanoSIMS was uniquely able to provide an important piece of the puzzle, answering to a measurement challenge that would be currently impossible to achieve by other methods. We look forward to continuing this collaborative effort in the related immune system studies.”
Since 2017, team Rosetta has been addressing the challenge of mapping cancer at the molecular and cellular level, with the aim to transform how we understand and treat cancer. https://www.npl.co.uk/grand-challenge
09 Nov 2023