Metabolism & Cancer
Rethinking Cancer Treatment
Warburg, Pedersen and Ko
The history, research and development of metabolic cancer therapy makes for a remarkable story that is now coming to the forefront of cancer research and treatment.
The story begins with Otto Warburg and his 1931 Nobel Prize winning discovery regarding the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme. This discovery became known as "The Warburg Effect" because of the unique metabolic signature of cancer cells and it opened up new frontiers in the fields of cellular metabolism and cellular respiration.
For more than four decades, Dr. Pete Pedersen worked in his lab at Johns Hopkins to fully elucidate the details and exact mechanisms of Warburg's discovery regarding the metabolism of cancer. Pedersen finally revealed the "why" and "how" of the Warburg Effect, and discovered how cancer cells become immortal. Dr. Pedersen's work and key discoveries ultimately made it possible to fully realize the power of PET imaging for cancers and opened the door to the full potential for metabolic cancer therapy.
After Dr. Ko joined Pedersen at Hopkins in 1991, and worked with him to make key discoveries regarding Cystic Fibrosis, Pedersen turned his attention again to his cancer research. He tasked Dr. Ko with isolating and inhibiting hexokinase II in order to find a way to inhibit the energy metabolism of cancer cells. Dr. Ko screened for a range of metabolic traits and determined that 3-Bromopyruvate (3-BP) was best at inhibiting both glycolytic and mitochondrial ATP production pathways. She then developed a 3-BP formulation, now known as KoDiscovery Anticancer Therapeutics (KAT 3-BP), which shuts down the metabolic function in cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. Check out Travis Christofferson's book Tripping Over the Truth to learn how Dr. Ko is the key figure in this promising field.
Biologist James Watson Supports Metabolic Cancer Research
Dr. Ko and Dr. Pedersen have even garnered the attention and interest of James Watson, who along with Francis Crick, is credited with the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
Later in his life, Watson became interested in learning more about Dr. Pedersen's and Dr. Ko's work to kill cancers by inhibiting cellular metabolism, rather than through more traditional genetic cancer therapies. In more recent years, Watson said that he believed targeting metabolism is more promising route of cancer research than gene-centered approaches. At 88 years of age, he stated that locating cancer-causing genes has been “remarkably unhelpful” and the belief that sequencing your DNA will extend your life is “a cruel illusion.” He further noted that if he were going into cancer research today, he would study biochemistry rather than molecular biology.