It’s well known that chemotherapy helps fight cancer. It’s also known that it wreaks havoc on normal, healthy cells. Michigan State University (MSU) scientists are closer to discovering a possible way to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients as they receive chemotherapy. By adding thymine – a natural building block found in DNA – into normal cells, they found it stimulated gene production and caused the cells to multiply. The study was published online on ecember 4, 2014 in Molecular Cell. In most cases, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy lose their fast-growing normal cells, including hair, nails, and lining of the gut,” said Dr. Sophia Lunt, a postdoctoral research associate who led the study along with Dr. Eran Andrechek, a physiology professor at MSU. “Therefore, it’s necessary to understand the differences between normal versus cancer cells if we want to improve cancer therapy, while minimizing the harsh side effects.” Thymine is made from sugar in the body and is necessary to make DNA. The research team wanted to understand how fast-growing normal cells metabolize sugar and other nutrients to stimulate growth compared to fast-growing cancer cells. They were surprised to discover that when a shared protein, found in both normal and cancer cells, was removed from the healthy ones, growth stopped. Previous studies have shown that deleting this protein, known as PKM2, from the cancer cells has no effect on cancer growth. “When we deleted the protein, we found it caused healthy cells to stop making DNA,” Dr. Andrechek said. “But when we added thymine, they began multiplying and producing DNA again.” Both researchers view this as a positive step in finding ways to boost healthy cell production, but indicate that more needs to be known on the effect thymine might have on cancer cells.
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