Search Magazine April 08, 2020

Cutting off cancer's fuel supply

Complex diseases require complex genetic research

Cancer is a complex disease; a treatment that works for one patient may be hindered by more resistant cancer cells in another. Figuring out how this disease works (how it initiates and grows) may be one of the best ways to find out how to defeat it. Rising to this challenge, JAX has retooled its approach to cancer research: searching specifically for the mechanisms and underlying genetic causes of cancer to develop more precise treatment approaches.

Keeping this precision in mind, JAX researchers use complex genetic tools to solve complicated problems like cancer. One sophisticated tool is JAX’s mouse model, which JAX has used and refined for more than 90 years.

More recently, JAX has harnessed the power of computational science to analyze information gained from both the mouse model and clinical research to create new, computer-contained models and simulations. By drawing on these powerful tools, JAX can better identify the genetic and molecular basis of cancer, growing in accuracy with each trial and experiment.

researcher heroes on a blue background; hero image

One fundamental question is: what fuels cancer’s growth? 

To try and answer this question, a research team that includes JAX Assistant Mingyang Lu, Ph.D.We are passionate about the development and application of computational modeling methods to study the operating mechanisms of cancer genetic networks.Professor Mingyang Lu recently published a paper that examined “metabolic plasticity” in cancer. Metabolic plasticity refers to the cancer metabolism’s ability to gain energy from multiple fuel sources within a host’s body. This adaptive behavior makes treatment of cancer difficult, as it can choose its method of producing energy depending on the surrounding conditions. Many treatments rely on cutting off cancer cells’ fuel supplies, but how can you stop something that can change energy sources?

To examine this resilient behavior, the researchers utilized a sophisticated computer model. This model focused on how cancer cells grow. They wanted to prove that cancer can adjust its metabolism to match its environment, in other words selecting where and how it obtains fuel to survive. The results of this research are guiding future cancer research and treatment. It shows that an understanding of metabolic plasticity is required to target some forms of cancer, accounting for cancer’s ability to process nutrients in a variety of ways.  

Unlocking cancer research

Proving even a seemingly small fact about cancer can have far-reaching ramifications. This precise, genomic approach is what JAX is all about. Cracking these “genetic codes” continues to bring new discoveries to light and helps researchers to make new lines of inquiry into many types of cancers. In this case, by examining cancer’s “fuel sources,” JAX moves ever closer to discovering treatment strategies aimed at the unique genetic profiles of patients and cancers. 

Learn more about cancer research at The Jackson Laboratory:

  • For more information on this research (including a link to the original paper), click here.
  • If you’d like to learn more about computational sciences at JAX, click here