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New technology facilitates the examination of tumor growth from a different perspective

Tumors, characterized by rapidly multiplying cancer cells, pose significant challenges in the field of oncology. Understanding the biochemical processes that drive their relentless growth is crucial for identifying potential therapeutic targets. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have made significant strides in this direction by developing a groundbreaking technology that allows them to study tumor growth from a unique perspective—spatially. By analyzing the utilization of nutrients within tissues, this multidimensional imaging approach reveals elevated pathway activities specific to brain cancer, offering valuable insights into potential treatment strategies.

Spatial Biology and Flux Profiling

Human biology is inherently three-dimensional, and the emerging field of spatial biology aims to capture this intricate geometry by mapping the locations of genes, proteins, and metabolites. The team led by senior author Dr. Gary J. Patti expanded the scope of spatial profiling by incorporating fluxes, which measure the rates of molecular transformations within cells. Dr. Patti likens this novel method to the traffic flow feature on Google Maps, providing not only a biochemical roadmap but also insights into the speed at which molecules traverse different pathways.

Insights into Brain Cancer

Utilizing a mouse model of glioblastoma, a highly lethal brain cancer in humans, the researchers created a high-resolution map of the "tumor ecosystem." This detailed analysis enabled them to identify the spatial distribution of molecules within the brain and monitor their conversion rates. Notably, the study shed light on how cancer cells obtain lipids, essential components for cell membrane formation. While previous research indicated that cancer cells scavenge lipids from their surroundings, this study revealed that brain tumor cells tend to synthesize lipids rather than rely solely on external sources.

Unique Tumor Environment

The brain presents a unique environment where lipid availability is limited compared to other tissues where tumors commonly develop. The study demonstrated that brain tumors exhibit a significant increase in the synthesis of specific lipids, reaching rates up to eight times higher than in surrounding healthy tissue. Interestingly, this pattern of lipid synthesis was consistent across different regions of the tumor, regardless of varying environmental conditions such as hypoxia or contact with healthy tissue.

Therapeutic Implications

The identification of a shared biochemical pathway responsible for fueling the growth of cancer cells within brain tumors holds significant therapeutic implications. By targeting this pathway, scientists may be able to impede or halt disease progression. Dr. Patti emphasized that increased pathway activity directly correlates with higher flux rates, making it an ideal candidate for therapeutic intervention. The researchers are excited about exploring the efficacy of impairing fatty acid elongation as a potential treatment strategy in mouse models of the disease.


The advent of multidimensional imaging technology has revolutionized the study of tumor growth, providing insights into spatial biochemistry. The pioneering work conducted by the research team from Washington University in St. Louis has demonstrated the importance of understanding not only the molecular components of tumors but also their dynamic transformation rates. By unraveling the intricacies of tumor growth in another dimension, scientists are now better equipped to devise targeted therapeutic approaches to combat cancer.


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