Starving tumor cells

Like all living things, cancer cells need energy to grow, but what do they like to eat? A newly appointed faculty member, Dr. Alex Muir researches the nutrients tumor cells feed on to divide and grow. Knowing their diet, Muir can develop targeted therapies aimed at starving tumors with drugs or diet modifications. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research…

A fundamental behavior of tumors is that they grow and get bigger. This unchecked growth is what makes cancer a deadly disease. What nutrients do tumors eat to ‘put on weight’ and grow? How do cancer cells process or metabolize these nutrients to make the appropriate building blocks they need to copy themselves and grow? These are the questions that our group is tackling. We use a variety of tools from metabolomics to CRISPR-based genetics to answer these questions.

A fundamental behavior of tumors is that they grow and get bigger. This unchecked growth is what makes cancer a deadly disease.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

The ability of cancers to grow limitlessly makes cancer a deadly disease. We study what nutrients tumors ‘eat’ and how they metabolize these nutrients to fuel their growth.

We study what nutrients tumors ‘eat’ and how they metabolize these nutrients to fuel their growth.

How could it someday impact patient lives?

A better understanding of tumor metabolism can impact patients in a number of ways, some of which are already being realized in the clinic. We can identify nutrients and metabolic processes that cancer cells require, and use drugs or diets to starve cancers of the nutrients to halt tumor progression. Beyond targeting the cancer cells directly, tumor-fighting immune cells often compete with cancer cells for nutrients. This competition impairs the ability of the immune system to reject tumors. We can use our knowledge of tumor metabolism to help nutritionally invigorate anti-tumor immune cells potentially leading to better immunotherapies.

We can use our knowledge of tumor metabolism to help nutritionally invigorate anti-tumor immune cells, potentially leading to better immunotherapies.