Disrupted nitrogen metabolism might spell cancer
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IMAGE: Staining of normal liver tissue (upper row, four images from right) reveals high levels of four different urea cycle enzymes (brown or reddish-brown), whereas liver cancer samples (bottom row, four… view more 

Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Nitrogen is a basic building block of all the body’s proteins, RNA and DNA, so cancerous tumors are greedy for this element. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in collaboration with colleagues from the National Cancer Institute and elsewhere, have now shown that in many cancers, the patient’s nitrogen metabolism is altered, producing detectable changes in the body fluids and contributing to the emergence of new mutations in cancerous tissue. The study’s findings, published recently in Cell, may in the future facilitate early detection of cancer and help predict the success of immunotherapy.

When the body makes use of nitrogen, it generates from the leftovers a nitrogenous waste substance called urea in a chain of biochemical reactions that take place in the liver, which are known as the urea cycle. As a result of this cycle, urea is expelled into the bloodstream, and is later excreted from the body in the urine. In previous research, Dr. Ayelet Erez of Weizmann’s

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