Research Highlights: Cancer Cell Consumes “Fake” Amino Acid with a “Ticking Time Bomb”

Scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic HeLa cancer cell. Thomas Deerinck, UC San Diego.

Original Article:

  • External sources of amino acids are important nutrients to fuel the growth of cancer cells.
  • The study utilized the increased demand for amino acid displayed by cancer cells as a design principle.
  • The goal is to fill cancer cells with nanoscopic amino acid mimics with cell-killing abilities.
  • A small library consisting of nine essential amino acids nanoconjugates are synthesized.
  • The in vitro anticancer activity of the amino acids nanoconjugates is evaluated.
  • One of the amino acids (1-phenylalanine functionalized Nano‐PAAM) appeared to have excellent intrinsic anti-cancer and cancer-selective properties and can be considered a novel nanotherapeutics.
  • The therapeutic effectiveness of the amino acid against a panel of human breast, gastric, and skin cancer cells could be assigned to the specific targeting of an overexpressed amino acid transporter in cancer cells, and its intracellular reactive oxygen species inducing properties of the nanoporous core.
  • Reactive oxygen species is a type of unstable molecule that contains oxygen and that easily reacts with other molecules in a cell.
  • A build up of reactive oxygen species in cells may cause damage to DNA, RNA, and proteins, and may cause cell death.
  • The amino acid could activate both the extrinsic and intrinsic apoptosis mechanisms to exert powerful dual-strength anti-cancer effect.
  • The potential ability of the amino acid is further investigated using tissue graft in mice.
  • An overall tumor growth suppression of about 60 percent is achieved without the aid of any drugs or application of external stimuli.


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