Researchers Focus on Emerging Field of Cancer Metabolics

Article Summary
  • Researchers discussed the metabolic factors of cancer at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Tumor Biology Symposium.
  • Metabolism has an impact on cancer tumor formation and metastasis.
  • As knowledge about metabolism grows, researchers believe new therapeutic avenues will correspondingly open.

Understanding how metabolic factors can drive cancer growth may open the door to new treatments, according to researchers at the 6th Annual Tumor Biology Symposium by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“Metabolism is an important, emerging field for precision medicine, with opportunities for clinical trials and the development of novel therapies,” said Stephen Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research at the Miller School of Medicine. “Our Tumor Biology Program takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how tumors arise and progress as we look for breakthrough discoveries in cancer research.”

Dr. Stephen Nimer speaking from the podium
Sylvester Director Dr. Stephen Nimer noted the importance of metabolism to precision medicine at the symposium.

Priyamvada Rai, Ph.D., and Scott Welford, Ph.D., Tumor Biology Program co-leaders and professors of radiation oncology, led the March 12 symposium.

Cancer Metabolism Studies

“Metabolism is life,” said Dr. Welford, noting that Sylvester has expanded its cancer program working group to support collaborations and team science. “This symposium highlights our growing interest in cancer metabolism, potential therapeutic strategies and the impact on our diverse South Florida community.”

The symposium drew more than 100 attendees, including researchers, clinicians and trainees. Eleven distinguished speakers from Sylvester and other leading cancer centers presented metabolism-related studies on multiple types of tumors.

“Cancer metabolism is a rapidly evolving research field. Our symposium today showcases the breadth of research in this area, from metabolic adaptations and vulnerabilities in tumor cells and their microenvironment, as well as the effects of aging, obesity and diet on cancer,” said Dr. Rai.

Metabolic Drivers of Tumors

During the symposium, researchers discussed the metabolism drivers of primary tumor formation and metastasis, as well as potential therapeutic approaches, such as inhibiting cellular signaling, overcoming tumor resistance and creating microenvironments hostile to cancer cells.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center's Dr. David Lombard
Dr. David Lombard has studied the use of SIRT5 for Ewing’s sarcoma, a pediatric bone cancer.

David Lombard, M.D., Ph.D., co-leader of Sylvester’s Cancer Epigenetics Program, clinical professor and vice chair of clinical and translational research, spoke on using SIRT5, one of a family of signaling proteins involved in metabolic regulation, to address Ewing’s sarcoma.

“When you suppress SIRT5, you see a dramatic drop in cell growth,” he said. “We have identified 18 small molecules that might inhibit SIRT5, and we are encouraged about developing biopotent therapies.”

The Effect of Diet

Moving up from the molecular level, Tracy Crane, Ph.D., R.D.N., co-lead of the Cancer Control Program and director of lifestyle medicine, prevention and digital health at Sylvester, focused on the role of diet and nutrition before, during and after cancer treatments.

“Diets may have an important role in cancer control, as they can change the levels of metabolites available to a tumor,” Dr. Crane said. “But there haven’t been many studies done on humans to see how diet composition changes tumor cells. Research is complicated because every cancer is different and diets may have different effects, such as ketogenic diets impacting glioblastomas but not ovarian cancers.”

Dr. Tracy Crane speaks during the Tumor Biology Symposium
Dr. Tracy Crane said that diets have varying effects on different types of tumors.

Other symposium presenters included:

  • John Blenis, Ph.D., Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Gina DeNicola, Ph.D., Moffitt Cancer Center
  • Andrean Simons-Burnett, Ph.D., the University of Iowa
  • Jason Miska, Ph.D., Northwestern University

Before giving his talk on myeloid metabolism and brain tumor Immunosuppression, Dr. Miska reflected on earning his doctoral degree at the Miller School in 2009.

“This is where I really learned about how to do science with rigor and specificity,” said Dr. Miska, who studies the metabolism of immune cells within brain tumors. “It is very cool to come back here today and see my mentors now as my peers.”

Tags: Dr. David Lombard, Dr. Priyamvada Rai, Dr. Scott Welford, Dr. Stephen Nimer, Dr. Tracy Crane, metabolics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center