Contrary to normal differentiated cells, Cancer cells are dependent on higher concentrations of sugars for glucose metabolism (Science Daily, 2018 Heiden, 2009). This fundamental process referred to as “The Warburg effect”, founded by Otto H. Warburg, is reliance on these cancer cells to focus almost exclusively on aerobic glycolysis (Medical Dictionary, 2009). In layman’s terms, it is simply the process, in which cancer cells primarily receive their energy via glucose and the Krebs cycle. Theoretically, it has been proposed that cancer cells could be “starved” by limiting glucose intake, or more accurately, promote glucose withdraw (Lee et al. 2017). However, cancer cells do not appear to be sensitive to this process, and little progress has been made in this area as a mechanism to eliminate cancer cells (Lee et al. 2017). Now, novel ideas have been put forth as the possible mechanism to which cancer cell death could be promoted via glucose withdraw (Science Daily, 2018).

The process of starving cancer cells would be simple, eliminating their primary source of energy, glucose, inhibiting any further progress of cancer cell growth. But, unknown mechanisms and pathways have had effects on cell sensitivity (Lee et. al, 2017).  Now, researchers from Singapore, under the guidance of Dr Orgis of the Max F. Perutz Laboratories and Professor Itahana have proposed a mechanism, in which sugars play a role in cancer cell growth and metabolism (Science Daily, 2018).

The approach is simple, that sugar acts as a signalling pathway, where depletion leads to calcium ions overflowing into the cell, resulting in cell death (Science Daily 2018; Lee et. al, 2017). This novel approach goes beyond what was typically thought of as the role of sugar in cancer cell proliferation.

There is quite significant importance to this proposed mechanism, mainly in therapeutic approaches to treating cancer patients. Orgis, itahana, and the rest of the research team have already worked on approaches to kill cancer cells, mainly through increased calcium concentration and depletion of sugar resources, which successfully killed cancer, leaving all healthy cells intact (Science Daily, 2018). The success of this approach has led the team to file for a patent on this approach, hopefully, with the intent to use it in the future as a mechanism to treat cancer patients (Science Daily, 2018).

This theory has not only changed our understanding of The Warburg Effect, but in addition can contribute to the solution of eradicating cancer in a safer, healthy manner.


COPYRIGHT: This article is the property of We Speak Science, a nonprofit institution co-founded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Antonio Del Vecchio (Cornell University, Division of Nutritional Sciences).


Lee, Ha Yin, et al. "Ca2+-dependent demethylation of phosphatase PP2Ac promotes glucose deprivation-induced cell death independently of inhibiting glycolysis." Sci. Signal. 11.512 (2018): eaam7893.

Vander Heiden, Matthew G., Lewis C. Cantley, and Craig B. Thompson. "Understanding the Warburg effect: the metabolic requirements of cell proliferation." science 324.5930 (2009): 1029-1033. (Picture)