Researchers studying blood glucose levels and the glucose transporter protein GLUT1 have discovered a potential biomarker for aggressive ovarian cancer. A study found that patients with lower blood glucose levels had increased GLUT1 expression in their ovarian tumor cells, prompting the need for further study of glucose metabolism in ovarian cancer.
The study titled, “GLUT1 receptor expression and circulating levels of fasting glucose in high grade serous ovarian cancer,” was published in the Journal of Cell Physiology.
GLUT1 is a protein that binds glucose circulating in the blood by releasing it inside cells. Cells in the ovaries usually do not express GLUT1, but researchers found that ovarian tumors in non-diabetic patients express this protein in high quantities, especially in the most aggressive cases of ovarian cancer.
“Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers,” Maddalena Barba, researcher at the IRCCS Regina Elena National Cancer Institute of Rome, Italy, said in a news release. “Despite remarkable achievements in terms of diagnoses and therapeutics, patient outcomes in terms of survival rates have remained largely unchanged. This is largely due to our limited understanding of the underlying mechanisms and pathways.”
Researchers analyzed blood glucose levels in 40 patients from a larger group of 147 women with advanced ovarian cancer. They also investigated the expression of GLUT1 in tumor tissue.
GLUT1 was found in all of the studied cases, but at particularly high levels in 29 patients. The higher the GLUT1 expression, the lower the circulating levels of glucose, which means that patients with lower blood glucose levels had increased GLUT1 expression in their ovarian tumor cells.
The results bring new insight into how ovarian cancer cells survive and function, and suggest that GLUT1 and glucose levels may serve as biomarkers to track the disease.
“This study revealed a higher expression of the glucose transporter 1 in cancer samples of patients with lower glucose levels in non-diabetic women,” said Patrizia Vici, the study’s senior author and clinical researcher at the IRCCS Regina Elena National Cancer Institute. “These findings provide evidence in support of our prior results from this same study population. Indeed, we have recently observed an association between cancer stage at diagnosis and circulating levels of fasting glucose.”
“If confirmed in future studies, this may translate into the identification and characterization of innovative drug targets in ovarian cancer patients,” said Antonio Giordano, director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.