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Researchers find link between glucose metabolism and colorectal tumours

Carlos Sebastián Muñoz, member of the Faculty of Biology and the Institute of Biomedicine of the UB (IBUB).

Carlos Sebastián Muñoz, member of the Faculty of Biology and the Institute of Biomedicine of the UB (IBUB).

Image of an immunofluorescence showing cells with different metabolic properties in the intestinal epithelium. Image: Carlos Sebastián

Image of an immunofluorescence showing cells with different metabolic properties in the intestinal epithelium. Image: Carlos Sebastián

23/03/2022

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Intestines have a specific population of cells —with a high glycolytic metabolism— that act as stem cells and would be the cause for the origin and spread of colorectal cancer. This is one of the main conclusions of the study carried out by an international team headed by Carlos Sebastián Muñoz, member of the Faculty of Biology and the Institute of Biomedicine of the UB (IBUB), and director of the Laboratory of Metabolic Dynamics in Cancer of the UB, located in the Barcelona Science Park (PCB).

The results of the study, published in the journal Nature Communications shed light on the design of a new generation of more efficient therapeutic targets against these tumours, based on the blocking of the metabolic reprogramming of these cells.

The colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in Spain —both in men and women—, 40,000 cases were diagnosed during 2021, according to the data from the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC). Despite the advances in the diagnostics and treatment, the death rate is still high and it is the second cause of death by cancer.

“In previous studies, we showed that the glucose metabolism plays a key role in the initiation of bowel tumours in murine models of colorectal cancer. Now, in this study, we found that these tumours have a population of cells characterized by a high glucose metabolism (glycolytic cells) and they behave as stem cells, that is, they are pluripotent, and they have the ability to form a tumour”, notes Carlos Sebastián, member of the Department of Cellular Biology, Physiology and Immunology of the UB.

The results reveal intestinal tumours to be metabolically heterogeneous and suggest that there is a hierarchy in which a small population of highly glycolytic cells would be the responsible for the tumour emergence and spread. 

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