How to Boost Healthy Cells During Chemotherapy

Adding a building block found in DNA could aid healthy cell production in cancer patients, study finds.

Adding a building block found in DNA could aid healthy cell production in cancer patients, study finds.

While useful in fighting cancer, chemotherapy also ravages healthy cells in the process, however researchers may have discovered a way to boost these healthy cells during treatment.

In a study published recently online in the journal Molecular Cell, researchers closed in on a potential method to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The addition of DNA building block thymine into normal cells was found to stimulate gene production, subsequently causing the cells to multiply.

"In most cases, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy lose their fast-growing normal cells, including hair, nails, and lining of the gut," co-study lead Sophia Lunt said in a press release. "Therefore, it's necessary to understand the differences between normal versus cancer cells if we want to improve cancer therapy while minimizing the harsh side effects."

The researchers sought to determine how fast-growing normal cells metabolize sugar and other nutrients to stimulate growth compared with fast-growing cancer cells.

The study revealed that removing PKM2, a protein shared between both normal and cancer cells, from healthy ones could stop their growth. The removal of PKM2 from cancer cells, however, has no impact on cancer growth.

"When we deleted the protein, we found it caused healthy cells to stop making DNA," study co-lead Eran Andrechek said in a press release. "But when we added thymine, they began multiplying and producing DNA again."

While this process was found to show promise in boosting healthy cell production, more research is needed to evaluate the effect of thymine on cancer cells.

"Before we can look at using thymine as a possible treatment supplement during chemotherapy, we have to know if it has the same effect on cancer cells," Andrechek said. "We want to stop them from growing, not stimulate them."

Researchers will next seek to discover what to target in order to halt the production of cancer cells.

"To selectively stop cancer growth while avoiding side effects including hair loss and vomiting, we need to identify a second target in cancer cells, in addition to PKM2, while providing normal cells with a supplement like thymine," Lunt said.