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01.12.2017 | Review | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Journal of Hematology & Oncology 1/2017

Drug-induced amino acid deprivation as strategy for cancer therapy

Journal of Hematology & Oncology > Ausgabe 1/2017
Marcus Kwong Lam Fung, Godfrey Chi-Fung Chan


Cancer is caused by uncontrollable growth of neoplastic cells, leading to invasion of adjacent and distant tissues resulting in death. Cancer cells have specific nutrient(s) auxotrophy and have a much higher nutrient demand compared to normal tissues. Therefore, different metabolic inhibitors or nutrient-depleting enzymes have been tested for their anti-cancer activities. We review recent available laboratory and clinical data on using various specific amino acid metabolic pathways inhibitors in treating cancers. Our focus is on glutamine, asparagine, and arginine starvation. These three amino acids are chosen due to their better scientific evidence compared to other related approaches in cancer treatment. Amino acid-specific depleting enzymes have been adopted in different standard chemotherapy protocols. Glutamine starvation by glutaminase inhibitior, transporter inhibitor, or glutamine depletion has shown to have significant anti-cancer effect in pre-clinical studies. Currently, glutaminase inhibitor is under clinical trial for testing anti-cancer efficacy. Clinical data suggests that asparagine depletion is effective in treating hematologic malignancies even as a single agent. On the other hand, arginine depletion has lower toxicity profile and can effectively reduce the level of pro-cancer biochemicals in patients as shown by ours and others’ data. This supports the clinical use of arginine depletion as anti-cancer therapy but its exact efficacy in various cancers requires further investigation. However, clinical application of these enzymes is usually hindered by common problems including allergy to these foreign proteins, off-target cytotoxicity, short half-life and rapidly emerging chemoresistance. There have been efforts to overcome these problems by modifying the drugs in different ways to circumvent these hindrance such as (1) isolate human native enzymes to reduce allergy, (2) isolate enzyme isoforms with higher specificities and efficiencies, (3) pegylate the enzymes to reduce allergy and prolong the half-lives, and (4) design drug combinations protocols to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy by drug synergy and minimizing resistance. These improvements can potentially lead to the development of more effective anti-cancer treatment with less adverse effects and higher therapeutic efficacy.

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