_NEWS Medicine

_Cancer Discovery

A Drexel Medicine researchers says a naturally occuring sugar appears to play a key role in the growth of prostate cancer. Suppressing this sugar, he says, could help fight the cancer in years to come.

_Mauricio J. Reginato

Reginato is a professor and interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and director of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine.

For the first time, researchers at Drexel University College of Medicine have discovered that a certain type of sugar found naturally in the body is elevated in prostate cancer cells and plays a critical role in the growth of cancer.

The research team previously identified a specific type of sugar that was elevated in breast cancer cells, which plays a critical role in the growth and movement of breast cancer. Now, the research team has discovered that this same sugar is also elevated in prostate cancer and also aids in multiplying and metastasis of the disease, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States among men.

“This sugar, O-GlcNAc, is used inside cells to tag proteins and alter their function. Cancer cells become very dependent on this sugar for growth and spread,” says the study’s lead researcher Mauricio J. Reginato, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “We’ve known for a long time that cancer cells are addicted to sugar. With the evidence that this sugar is elevated in both prostate and breast cancer development, we may, in the future, be able to develop ways to suppress this sugar, which could lead to more targeted treatment protocols for these types
of cancer.”

In the study, O-GlcNAc was found to be elevated in a panel of prostate cancer cell lines. Normalizing the levels of O-GlcNAc significantly reduced the spread and growth of such cells. The researchers have found that prostate cancer cells, with reduced levels of O-GlcNAc, had a significant reduction in the incidence of bone metastasis.

This study indicates that targeting the enzyme that adds this sugar to proteins could have therapeutic potential in the treatment of several types of cancers.