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GLUT inhibitors may be the new cancer therapy

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GLUT inhibitors

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have made further progress in the fight against cancer. The study conducted by them was published in the scientific magazine Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and reveals interesting findings about new ways to fight cancer. The study is based on the mechanism by which glucose enters the cell. It is known that glucose, the main energy source for cells, enters the cells with a protein named GLUT. Now researchers from Karolinska Institutet have managed to get more information about how GLUT protein transports glucose into cells.

Because tumors are fast growing, they need the proteins that carry nutrients into the cells to function at full capacity. Therefore, researchers have thought that an important strategy for cancer treatment would be to block these proteins. In this way would be blocked all cell metabolism (which means that cells would starve). GLUT family is one of the major group of membrane transport proteins that transport glucose and other substances into cells. Because glucose is one of the most important nutrients of cell, GLUT transporters play an essential role in cancer growth.

Cancer cell

Cancer cell

To learn more about the transport of glucose into cells, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have done experiments on Escherichia coli bacterium. They studied how glucose transport is performed by protein XylE (from Escherichia coli bacterium) and found details about the mechanism by which this protein transport sugars within the cell. It seems that when it carries sugar molecules, the protein structure changes and adopts two different conformations.
Pär Nordlund at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, one of the researchers behind the study, said that by showing the details of the molecular structure of the region where it binds glucose, their study opens new opportunities to discover new inhibitors of GLUT. He added that information on protein structure facilitates the development of new drugs more rapidly. GLUT inhibitors may underlie new anticancer therapies.

Furthermore, the study results are important not only in cancer, but also diabetes. GLUT plays an important role in diabetes because insulin cause blood glucose uptake by these proteins. In addition, the protein XylE and GLUT are part of the Major Facilitator Superfamily (MFS), a large group of transporters that are involved in many diseases. “Many aspects concerning molecular mechanisms for the function of GLUT transporters are probably common to many members of the MFS family, which are involved in a broad spectrum of diseases in addition to cancer and diabetes”, Pär Nordlund explained.