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NCI News Note

NIH scientists provide new insight into rare kidney cancer:

  • Posted: September 12, 2011

NIH scientists have discovered a unique feature of a rare, hereditary form of kidney cancer that may provide a better understanding of its progression and metastasis, possibly laying the foundation for the development of new targeted therapies. Tracey Rouault, M.D., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and W. Marston Linehan, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute, report their discovery in the September 12, 2011, issue of Cancer Cell.

The hereditary cancer syndrome, called Hereditary Leiomyomatosis Renal Cell Cancer (HLRCC), is marked by a loss of a key enzyme in the main energy-producing element of a cell, the mitochondria.   HLRCC patients compensate for loss of this mitochondrial function by increasing consumption of sugars through a more basic, but less efficient, metabolic pathway known as aerobic glycolysis.  In addition, researchers discovered that cells from HLRCC kidney cancers also change their metabolism by diminishing activity of a metabolic switch known as AMPK, which predisposes cells toward growth and synthesis of fatty acids which are critical for efficient cancer growth.  The switch to rapid fatty acid production and storage may enable these cells to metastasize and could be an important key to the aggressive growth of these types of renal tumors and other tumors characterized by aerobic glycolysis, or what is called the Warburg effect in cancer.