In a recent study at KU Leuven, researchers found that the antidepressant sertraline inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
It targets a metabolic addiction that allows different types of cancer to grow.
The study is published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. One author is Professor Kim De Keersmaecker.
Cancer cells use multiple biological mechanisms to stimulate their growth.
In certain types of breast cancer, leukemia, skin cancer, brain tumors, and lung cancer, among others, the malignant cells produce large amounts of serine and glycine, two amino acids.
This product stimulates the growth of cancer cells to such an extent that they become addicted to serine and glycine.
Healthy cells use this mechanism to a lesser extent and also take up serine and glycine from food.
This is not sufficient for cancer cells, however, meaning they start producing more. If we can halt this production, we will be able to fight cancer without affecting healthy cells.
In the study, the team searched for a substance that influences the synthesis of serine and glycine. They utilized a database of existing medicines.
In the first phase, they tested 1,600 substances on yeast cells. The screening showed that antidepressant sertraline was the most effective substance.
Other studies had already indicated that sertraline has a certain anti-cancer activity, but there was no explanation for this yet.
The team found that sertraline inhibits the production of serine and glycine, causing decreased growth of cancer cells.
They also showed that this substance is most effective in combination with other therapeutic agents.
In studies with mice, they saw that sertraline in combination with another therapy strongly inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells.
The researchers now start examining other types of cancer that are also addicted to serine and glycine synthesis.
This is for example the case in T-cell leukemia, but also in certain types of brain, lung, and skin cancer.
The more tumors scientists can identify that are sensitive to sertraline, the better the prospects are for helping patients in the future.
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