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How cancer may eat self to grow

United Press International

02-14-11

U.S. researchers say they have learned how cancer cells may "self-cannibalize" in order to grow.

Researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Rutgers University and Princeton University, say cancer cells become "addicted" to autophagy -- cells eating parts of themselves to survive starvation.

The study, published in Genes & Development, explains how autophagy may "fuel" aggressive tumors. Genes --known as H-ras and K-ras -- are activated and promote autophagy whereby cell mitochondria can keep providing cell energy for tumor growth.

"What this finding suggests is that patients with these poor-prognosis cancers may benefit from treatment that targets autophagy inhibition," senior author Eileen White of the Cancer Institute says in a statement. "Ideally, further examination of the autophagy cycle will lead to the identification of a certain point along that pathway that will compromise cancer cell survival. Once illuminated, that step in the process can be exploited so that researchers can find ways to maximize the benefits of autophagy inhibitors and improve clinical outcomes."

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