A new understanding of how to knock out cancer

Researchers reports that cancer cells have an unexpected dependency on unbound calcium (Ca2+) in the energy-producing compartments of cancer cells called mitochondria.  This addiction for calcium is a unique feature of cancer cells. 

Calcium is initially released in the endoplasmic reticulum of cancer cells and transferred to mitochondria.  If this calcium influx is blocked an energy crisis occurs in cancer cells and they selectively die off without harm to healthy cells.  Normal and cancer cells utilize a self-eating process (called autophagy) to survive but cancer cells have such a voracious appetite for sources of energy that they can’t survive when there is a shortage of transfer of calcium from endoplasmic reticulum to mitochondria.  Therefore, this cellular calcium addiction produces a susceptibility of cancer cells that has practical application in design of cancer therapy.  [Cell Reports March 15, 2016]

However cancer biologists recently went in a 180° direction.  Researchers now report that the red wine molecule resveratrol selectively kills cancer cells by an opposite action – the massive influx of unbound calcium into mitochondria.  Healthy cells are unaffected and such treatment would be completely non-toxic.  The title of their paper is: “Resveratrol specifically kills cancer cells by a devastating increase in unbound calcium.”  [Cell Physiology & Biochemistry 2016]  Resveratrol’s ability to kill cancer cells by influx of calcium into tumor cells has been cited elsewhere. [Life Sciences March 1, 2016; Human Experimental Toxicology March 2015; Molecular Pharmacology Dec 2007]

Cellular calcium influx also activates the immune system. [Cell Death & Disease 2015] Enhanced influx of calcium into cancer cells is also linked with more efficient cancer cell death by natural killer (NK) cells.  [Biochimica Biophysica Acta Molecular Cell Research July 2013]

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