Acidic pH: The Weakness of Cancer Cells

In a new approach, scientists are finding ways to weaken, then, attack cancer cells. The tactic is by lowering their acidic pH. And you know what, the hypothesis is super promising.

Could we be much closer to curing cancer than ever before? Hands down, yes! A while ago, researchers managed to deliver nano-size packets of gene code into brain tumor cells. That was a milestone and a half.

However, the new method is a bit complex as it deploys new computational models and mixes that with biological facts, to identify new therapeutic targets.

Nonetheless, the concept as a whole revolves around lowering the intracellular pH of cancer cells.

Cancer Cells Decide Their Environment

Source: royalsocietypublishing 

One of the major reasons why cancer cells flourish is because they decide their environment. They acidify their outside environment but keep the internal of their cells alkalized.

If these conditions, in and out of the cells can be reversed that could ideally make the cancer cells more susceptible. It’s a biological principle that the life of all living cells is tied to the favorability of its ecosystem.

But with cancer, the above principle seems inverted and needs to be explored to the end.

Now, a computational study by Miquel Duran-Frigola, a computational chemist at IRB Barcelona (Institute of Research in Biomedicine) showed that cancer cells do multiply less intensively when their internal pH is lowered.

The cell proliferation reduces further and further with lowering of the intercellular pH, meaning they become more acidic inside.

This reveals openings to new therapeutic targets that might help tackle the disease.

Answering the Question on a Wider Scale

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The researchers wanted to address this from a wider perspective, and as such, they resolved to a computational model. They used hundreds of thousands of essays from a biochemical database with targeted data on gene expression of cancer cells.

With that info, they created an effective computational model which they used to investigate around 2000 metabolic enzymes with respect to their variations in pH.

“Being a computational lab, we are committed to tackling this question from a broader perspective,” said Duran-Frigola, who works with the Network Biology lab headed by Patrick Aloy under ICREA as an Associate Researcher.

In other words, the concept revolves around understanding metabolic pathways and the link connecting these pathways to varying pH levels in cancer cells. Miquel and team say this could be the exact mechanism cancer deploy to flourish even at basic pH levels.

Acidification as the Main Objective

Following real-life biological principles, linking survival to environmental conditions, we can decide the fate of cancer cells.

The new research work has proved that cancer cells do proliferate faster in an in-cell alkaline maintained condition, which means introducing a different environment that is more acidic would make cancer cells vulnerable and weaker.

That’s where the idea of acidifying cancer cells as a therapeutic strategy stems from. In short, this opens new windows to developing drugs that decide the environment as they target tumorous cells.

More on New Therapeutic Targets

Adding to the hypothesis, the same researchers say they’ve discovered metabolic enzymes that work at pre-determined intracellular acidity and do so synergistically during the growth of a cancer cell. From a medical perspective, the molecules themselves make a good therapeutic target.

Besides that, other potential targets are being tested, and as conveyed in the work, done in collaboration with Maryland University and Moffit Cancer Center (MCC,) tests on breast cancer cells seemed to yield expected results.

The report about how adjusting the acidic pH weakens cancer cells also appears in Nature Communications.

Well, the whole thing remains a research topic as of now. However, Duran-Frigola representing the team stated that some of the identified avenues of targets have been confirmed ready for testing in animals.