Grants - V Scholar Grants - Texas - 2021

Gerta Hoxhaj, PhD

Funded by the Constellation Gold Network Distributors

Cancer cells divide rapidly. To be able to do this, cancer cells often rewire their metabolism to produce more building blocks of life- proteins, nucleotides, and lipids. Our lab studies a molecule known as NADPH, which is necessary for the production of these building blocks. We recently discovered that NADPH produced in the mitochondria is essential for the synthesis of an amino acid called proline. Cancer cells that are deficient in an enzyme called NADK2, which maintains mitochondrial NADPH levels, cannot synthesize proline and fail to grow under low proline conditions.  

Our analysis of proline production in mice showed that the pancreas makes the most proline. We propose that pancreatic tumors strongly depend on proline and that blocking proline uptake and production should kill pancreatic cancer cells. In the proposed work, we will test whether inhibiting proline production through targeting NADK2 together with the removal of proline from the diet is an effective strategy in reducing pancreatic tumor growth. To test this, we will use a mouse model that mirrors pancreatic cancer. This research will pave the way for new ways to treat patients that have pancreatic cancer and this treatment strategy has the potential to be applied for other cancer types that rely on proline for growth.