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​Dr. Yoav Shaul: Keeping cancer on low grade

Dr. Yoav Shaul
Each cell in our body has internal machinery able to generate small molecules that are needed to satisfy specific cellular demands. The ability of cells to modify small molecules is defined as “metabolism”, and the enzymes that modify small molecules are therefore named “metabolic enzymes”.
Most cancers begin as low grade, meaning that they present less aggressive behavior and are more sensitive to drugs. However, as time passes, the tumor can advance to a more aggressive state that includes the ability to metastasize and develop resistance to drugs. Unfortunately, these aggressive tumor cells are the most lethal, and thus inhibiting the progression of low-grade tumors to a more advance stage can help in inhibiting the development of the disease.
In my lab, we are working on determining whether metabolism plays an essential role in the ability of cancer cell to acquire a more aggressive phenotype. We had uncovered a set of metabolic enzymes whose activity is critical for the cell's ability to transition to a more aggressive state, but whose exact role is still unclear. Understanding the function of these metabolic enzymes will therefore elucidate the cellular mechanisms that are essential for the ability of cancer cells to become more aggressive. This understanding will shed new light on critical and underexplored areas of cancer biology that have both basic and translational applications, and could lead to the development of a new class of anticancer drugs that will maintain the cancer cells in their less aggressive form.