Using a technique called dynamic nuclear polarization to hyperpolarize carbon-13 (13C) labeled cell chemicals, the breast cancer researchers are able to visually image breast cancer cell metabolism. For their current study, the breast cancer researchers examined the metabolism of 13C-pyruvate and 13C-fumarate in breast cancer cells during treatment with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. The breast cancer researchers showed that chemotherapy treatment with doxorubicin decreased the conversion of 13C-pyruvate to lactate, which was linked to an increase in the programmed death of the breast cancer cells. Additionally, chemotherapy treatment caused an increase in the metabolism of 13C-fumarate to malate, which was also linked to breast cancer cell death. These metabolic changes were observed long before changes in breast cancer tumor size were noticeable in mice implanted with the breast cancer cells.
These are fascinating study results with potentially important long-term implications. Currently, it can take weeks before it is known if chemotherapy treatments are reducing breast cancer tumor size, which means it can take weeks before a breast cancer patient knows if their chemotherapy treatment is effective. If it was not effective, a breast cancer patient might have to undergo additional treatments and be subjected to additional stress. Being able to detect the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments early in the treatment process could possibly reduce a breast cancer patient's exposure to unnecessary, ineffective chemotherapy treatments. Additionally, it offers physicians a chance to find an effective breast cancer treatment early in the treatment process, which might lead to better treatment results and outcome.
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