German physician, physiologist and biochemist Otto Heinrich Warburg discovered that cancerous cells favor the anaerobic process of fermentation. In 1931, he won the Nobel Prize for his discovery.
Fermentation is the conversion of sugar into acids, gases or alcohol, even in the presence of oxygen.
This makes cancerous cells vastly different from most healthy human cells, which produce energy using oxygen via respiration.
This finding perplexed scientists because fermentation is a far less efficient means of generating energy than aerobic metabolism.
A team of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, has discovered that although oxygen-based metabolism is more efficient means of energy production, the costs required to produce the molecular machinery that drives respiration are twice those needed to ferment the sugar glucose.
This finding could have implications in identifying potential targets in treating cancer.
Scientist measured the fraction of all cellular proteins devoted to various tasks in order to determine the metabolic costs of generating energy and cell growth in e-coli bacteria. The enzymes that facilitate respiration are large and lumbering and need to be produced prolifically to keep humans and their steadily growing cells, going.
A higher percentage of a fast growing cell’s proteome is dedicated to growth. However, a smaller fraction is available for other cellular processes, such as energy production.
A team of Dutch theoretical biologists came up with the idea that cellular metabolism and growth might be based on the cost-benefit balance of producing the proteins necessary to generate energy and grow in 2009.
Current cancer treatment focuses on interfering with cell signaling pathways that could lead to runaway cellular growth. These findings show that treatment should not be so concerned with signaling and could instead work to slow down the efficiency of fermentative processes.