Researchers from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have discovered a new pathway to attack cancer cells without causing damage to the body’s healthy cells.
Led by Prof. Tomer Shlomi’s research group, the study, the findings of which were published in the academic journal Cell Metabolism, has found a potential solution to safely removing cancer cells in a way that puts the body in as little risk as possible.
Removing cancer cells is always somewhat risky, as it is very easy to accidentally damage healthy cells in the process. One common way to do so is by using chemotherapy to target the folate cycle, a process essential to the production of DNA and RNA. Naturally, DNA production is a critical part of cell division, and as a result, it’s an essential part of the spread of cancer. But because the healthy cells in the body also undergo this cycle, targeting it with chemotherapy can result in healthy cells being damaged as well.
But what is essential to understand is that there isn’t just a single folate cycle – rather, there are two. One happens in the cytosol, the fluid that fills the cell, and the other happens in the mitochondria, an organelle commonly referred to as “the powerhouse of the cell.” Typically, healthy cells switch between the two cycles.
What Shlomi’s team discovered, however, is that cancer cells exclusively rely on the cytosol for the folate cycle.
Because healthy cells can switch between the cytosol and the mitochondria, targeting the cytosol with chemotherapy would allow the cancer cells to die while posing minimal risk to the healthy ones.
This discovery was made through the analysis of RFC, a protein that regulates intracellular folate levels. Low RFC count in a cell would consequently mean low folate – and this, it turns out, results in the folate cycle in the mitochondria being essentially non-functional, so the cytosol would be the only option for DNA production. Ergo, if a tumor has low RFC, it means that it is exclusively using the cytosol for the folate cycle.
The findings announced by Technion come on February 4, which is marked internationally as World Cancer Day. To mark the occasion, Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) released a report on cancer in Israel, which has seen the mortality rate significantly drop over the past 20 years.
Israel also published a series of informational videos in Hebrew on different immunotherapy options for cancer patients, which is available on the ICA’s website.