Recent University of Georgia research may change the way cancerous tumors are treated.
Recent research points to the theory that low cellular oxygen levels, not genetic mutation, stimulates the growth of cancerous tumors. According to Ying Xu, professor of bioinformatics and computational biology and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, is pioneering the theory that cancer treatment should be more geared towards the long-term lack of oxygen in cells and less on genetic biomarkers.
Xu states, “Cancer drugs try to get at the root—at the molecular level—of a particular mutation, but the cancer often bypasses it. So we think that possibly genetic mutations may not be the main driver of cancer.”
Xu admits that his theory runs against some beliefs widely held among the cancer research community. In older studies, the link between low oxygen levels and cancer growth was established, but was never identified as a driving force behind the formation of cancer.
Xu’s team analyzed samples from 7 different types of cancer from the Stanford Microarray Database, and used a software program to identify abnormal gene expression. The researchers worked with liver, lung, ovary, kidney, breast, stomach, and pancreatic cancers. Mesothelioma was not included in the study, but researchers are hopeful that many of the theories hold true with this rare form of cancer that affects roughly 3,000 a year in America.
Asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma, but many believe that genetic predisposition also plays a role in the development of this disease.
Xu and his team based their findings on bionfiormatics analysis, allowing researchers to view the cancer from a different perspective by combining computational science with biology. The study was published online in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology.
In the study, Xu and his team used the gene HIF1A as a biomarker to measure the amount of molecular oxygen contained in a cell. Each of the 7 cancers studies showed decreased cellular oxygen levels, which can interrupt the way food is converted into energy and causes cancer cells to work harder to grow and reproduce more quickly than healthy cells. According to Xu, “This could be a key driver of cancer.”
Right now, most cancer research is focused on counteracting genetic mutations, but this new model may help researchers determine why many cancers are prone to become drug resistant very quickly. In the future, according to Xu, researchers should focus on methods to prevent low cellular oxygen levels.