Cancer as a metabolic disease: implications for novel therapeutics

Tuesday, 11/03/2014  |   Reports  |  no comments

Seyfried TN, Flores RE, Poff AM & D’Agostino DP. Carcinogenesis (2013) doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgt480
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Emerging evidence indicates that cancer is primarily a metabolic disease involving disturbances in energy production through respiration and fermentation. The genomic instability observed in tumor cells and all other recognized hallmarks of cancer are considered downstream epiphenomena of the initial disturbance of cellular energy metabolism. The disturbances in tumor cell energy metabolism can be linked to abnormalities in the structure and function of the mitochondria. When viewed as a mitochondrial metabolic disease, the evolutionary theory of Lamarck can better explain cancer progression than can the evolutionary theory of Darwin. Cancer growth and progression can be managed following a whole body transition from fermentable metabolites, primarily glucose and glutamine, to respiratory metabolites, primarily ketone bodies. As each individual is a unique metabolic entity, personalization of metabolic therapy as a broad-based cancer treatment strategy will require fine-tuning to match the therapy to an individual’s unique physiology.

Cancer is a disease involving multiple time- and space-dependent changes in the health status of cells and tissues that ultimately lead to malignant tumors. Neoplasia (abnormal cell growth) is the biological endpoint of the disease. Tumor cell invasion into surrounding tissues and their spread (metastasis) to distant organs is the primary cause of morbidity and mortality of most cancer patients. A major impediment in the effort to control cancer has been due in large part to the confusion surrounding the origin of the disease. Contradictions and paradoxes continue to plague the field. Much of the confusion surrounding cancer origin arises from the absence of a unifying theory that can integrate the many diverse observations on the nature of the disease. Without a clear understanding of how cancer arises, it becomes difficult to formulate a successful strategy for effective long-term management and prevention. The failure to clearly define the origin of cancer is responsible in large part for the failure to significantly reduce the death rate from the disease. Although cancer metabolism is receiving increased attention, cancer is generally considered a genetic disease. This general view is now under serious reevaluation. The information in this review comes in part from our previous articles and treatise on the subject.

Advanced metastatic cancers can become manageable when their access to fermentable fuels becomes restricted. The metabolic shift associated with the KD-R involves ‘keto-adaptation’. However, the adaptation to this new metabolic state can be challenging for some people. The administration of ketone esters could conceivably enable patients to circumvent the dietary restriction generally required for sustained nutritional ketosis. Ketone ester-induced ketosis would make sustained hypoglycemia more tolerable and thus assist in metabolic management of cancer. As each person is a unique metabolic entity, personalization of metabolic therapy as a broad-based cancer treatment strategy will require fine-tuning based on an understanding of individual human physiology. Also, personalized molecular therapies developed through the genome projects could be useful in targeting and killing those tumor cells that might survive the non-toxic whole body metabolic therapy.
The number of molecular targets should be less in a few survivor cells of a small tumor than in a heterogeneous cell population of a large tumor. We would therefore consider personalized molecular therapy as a final strategy rather than as an initial strategy for cancer management. Non-toxic metabolic therapy should become the future of cancer treatment if the goal is to manage the disease without harming the patient. Although it will be important for researchers to elucidate the mechanistic minutia responsible for the therapeutic benefits, this should not impede an immediate application of this therapeutic strategy for cancer management or prevention.

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