Lactate may be key for cancer development

Researchers are working hard to understand the mechanism responsible for oncogenesis, the process through which normal cells become cancerous ones. A new study focuses on lactate – a molecule produced during intense exercise – and explains its role in cancer cell formation.
New research suggests that lactate plays a crucial role in the development and spread of cancer cells.

New research, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, analyzes the role of lactate in oncogenesis.

Lactate is a byproduct of the chemical process known as glycolysis – the breaking down of sugar, or glucose, into smaller molecules with the purpose of producing energy. During intense physical activity, lactate accumulates in the tissue and blood, which can sometimes lead to poorer physical performance and muscle stiffness.

At the beginning of the 20th century, German scientist Otto Warburg noticed that cancer cells consume a lot more glucose than normal cells. The so-called Warburg effect refers to the fact that cancer cells undergo more glycolysis and produce more lactate compared with normal cells.

The new research – led by Inigo San Millan, director of the Sports Performance Department and physiology laboratory at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center – set out to understand why the Warburg effect happens. Since Warburg’s time, the focus in cancer research has shifted from cell metabolism to genetics, but the new paper hopes to put lactate back at the center of cancer research.

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