Oesophageal cancer: a new treatment which uses the glutamine dependence of cancer cells

An image to illustrate oesophageal cancer and the new research on glutamine
© iStock/Lars Neumann

Oesophageal cancer cells are dependent on glutamine. Researchers have found a new treatment based on this.

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have found a treatment which targets drug resistant oesophageal cancer cells by aiming at the cells’ glutamine dependence.

Oesophageal cancer

NHS defines oesophageal cancer as: “A type of cancer affecting the oesophagus (gullet) – the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. It mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s and is more common in men than women.”

NHS states that the symptoms of oesophageal cancer can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing;
  • Persistent indigestion or heartburn;
  • bringing up food soon after eating;
  • loss of appetite and weight loss; and
  • pain or discomfort in your upper tummy, chest or back.

Shuo Qie, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and the first author on the article, explained: “It’s an aggressive, lethal cancer. Surgery is the only and the best choice. But some patients, especially patients with metastasis, need chemotherapy or other additional treatments.”

The ‘achilles heel’ of oesophageal cancer?

J. Alan Diehl, Ph.D., Qie’s mentor and the senior author on the article,commented: “You’ll hear the term ‘an Achilles heel,’. Can you find the Achilles heel that’s in the cancer but not in the normal cell? And that’s what Qie has done. Just from trying to understand the biology of the pathway, he and I have identified a unique therapeutic opportunity.”

The therapeutic potential

The treatment was found to be effective against tumours that had developed resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors. The resistant cancer cells were even more vulnerable to this treatment than non-resistant cancer cells.

Diehl added: “It’s quite remarkable that the tumour cells that we have that are resistant to CDK4/6 inhibitors are actually five-, six-fold more sensitive to this combination therapy than they were before they developed resistance.”

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