New Research Suggests Lactate May Prompt Mutated Cells to Become Cancerous

Lactate may trigger a mutated cell to become cancerous, according to the findings of a study published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology.

“We discovered that lactate is a catalyst that triggers a mechanism in mutated cells necessary to continue the cancer forming process,” said Iñigo San Millán, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in a press release about the study. “This opens a new door to better understand cancer at the metabolic level.”

In this study, the researchers exposed human breast cancer cells to glucose which then produced lactate, which increased the expression of all the main mutated genes involved in breast cancer between 150-800%.

The findings demonstrated that lactate is a key trigger for cancer formation. Moving forward, San Millán and his team are reproducing this study in other cancers like small-cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer and expecting to find similar results. “Lactate, which used to be considered a waste product, turns out to be a major signaling molecule and a major regulator of the genes involved in cancer,” San Millán said.

“This is not the same behavior of lactate we get from doing exercise because that is quickly removed by the muscles and has positive signaling properties to improve physical fitness. The lactate produced in cancer stays put, is constantly being produced and acts as a catalyst to activate mutated genes into cancer. We still don’t know these mechanisms but we are investigating them now.”

Prof. San Millán will now try to find ways to block this glucose byproduct from leaving the cancer cell.

“When lactate is produced it has to leave the cell through a transporter,” he said. “We are trying to block the transporter as well as lactate production inside the cancer cell with different compounds. If you block the door, the lactate cannot leave and the cancer cell will burst.”

“If we can effectively target lactate,” Prof San Millán added. “We could possibly be taking a great step toward ending cancer.”