The definition of the metabolic characteristics of breast cancer opens the door to new therapeutic strategies

  • An international study, with the participation of IDIBELL and ICO, determines that the metabolism of breast tumor cells is defined by their origin.
  • Thus, the different subtypes of cancer, coming from different origins, present unique metabolic profiles.
  • Knowing the metabolic characteristics of each subtype opens the doors to the use of targeted therapies directed to the specific vulnerabilities of each one.
NO49 - Pujana_Nat Metab - Imatge

It is believed that when a cell becomes cancerous, it uses the inherently active metabolic pathways to obtain the energy to proliferate. Therefore, the metabolism of cancer cells will be determined by their tissue of origin. But breast cancer case is complicated because this type of cancer has different origins that become differents types of breast cancer. Furthermore, the predominant metabolic pathways in each non-cancerous mammary cell subtype are not yet defined, it is also unclear whether different types of breast cancers retain the metabolic characteristics of the original cells.

An international study, with the participation of the IDIBELL and ICO’s breast cancer research group, has published an article in the journal Nature Metabolism that shows that different populations of mammary cells present specific metabolic programs. Also, it describes that the metabolic identity of normal mammary cells explains the metabolic heterogeneity of tumors.

These findings open up new therapeutic opportunities against breast cancer, based on the specific metabolic characteristics of each tumor“, points out Dr. Miguel Àngel Pujana, leader of the group in breast cancer. And he explains, “if we know which metabolic pathways use a certain population of cancer cells accordingly to their origin, we will know the vulnerabilities of these pathways, and therefore attack them.

In the epithelial cells of the mammary glands, we distinguish the luminal cells, responsible for milk production and which can present different differentiation states, and the contractile basal cells. Each of these cell types generates a type of breast cancer. In the present study, thanks to proteomic techniques and pharmacological inhibition, the metabolic identities of each type of mammary epithelial cell are defined. On the other hand, the computational analyzes indicate that breast cancer cells retain the metabolic characteristics of their progenitors.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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