Leuven researchers put a brake on cancer cells

Summary

Researchers from the University of Leuven have managed to reduce the spread of cancers in mice by blocking a critical enzyme

New opportunities

An insight into the way breast cancer cells behave when they invade other parts of the body promises new opportunities to control the disease, according to researchers at the University of Leuven.

The researchers involved, led by Sarah-Maria Fendt of the VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Cancer Biology, are now looking for ways to translate their discovery into treatments. The discovery, published last week in the journal Nature Communications, concerns differences in the way invading cells generate energy compared to normal cells, or cancer cells that remain in the breast.

Fendt and her colleagues found that these invading cells use a completely different nutrient, called proline, processed through a different metabolic pathway. When they blocked a critical enzyme in this pathway, called Prodh, they substantially reduced the spread of cancers in mice, without harming healthy tissue or preventing organs from functioning normally.

“Our results provide ample evidence that Prodh is a potential breast cancer drug target,” Fendt said. The first step is to look at ways of controlling the enzyme during existing forms of preventative chemotherapy. The second is to look for new compounds that shut down the enzyme more completely than is possible at present.

This will require an industrial partner. “With the right partner, this could result in clinical trials in as little as five years,” Fendt said.
Photo: A radiology technician performs a mammography test
© Ingimage

University of Leuven

Established almost six centuries ago, the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is one of the oldest universities in the Low Countries. International rankings consistently place it among the best universities in Europe.
Papal founding - It was founded as a Catholic university by Pope Martin V in 1425.
Bright minds - Over the centuries, it attracted famous scholars like Justus Lipsius, Andreas Vesalius, Desiderius Erasmus and Gerard Mercator.
Micro and nano - KU Leuven is home to the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (imec), a world-class research centre in micro- and nanoelectronics.
11 544

staff members in 2013

40 069

students in 2014-2015 academic year

365

million euros in annual research budget