Acidic pH: The weakness of cancer cells
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IMAGE: This is computational prediction of the proliferation of healthy and cancerous cells at different intracellular pH. Cancer cells proliferate well at basic pH, but at acidic pH they become vulnerable view more 

Credit: Miquel Duran-Frigola, IRB Barcelona

Cancer cells are known to acidify their environment and, consequently, the interior of the cells themselves is alkalised. In principle, this deregulation should hinder the development and proliferation of these cells. However, exactly the opposite happens in cancer. A computational study co-authored by computational chemist Miquel Duran-Frigola, from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), has demonstrated that cancer cells proliferate less and in a less robust manner when their internal pH is lowered, that is to say it becomes more acidic. This finding thus reveals opportunities for new therapeutic approaches to tackle the disease.

Using hundreds of thousands of data from previous biochemical assays and a database on the gene expression of cancer cells, the researchers have developed a computational model that analyses how variations in pH affect the activity of almost 2000 metabolic enzymes. “We are a computational lab and we are devoted to systems biology. We wanted to address the question on a large scale,” says Miquel

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