UT Dallas Magazine

The Link Between Cancer and Sugar

UTD researchers found that two types of non-small cell lung cancer metabolize glucose differently. A glucose transporter called GLUT1, shown in green, is much more prevalent in the cells of lung squamous cell carcinoma (right) than in lung adenocarcinoma cells (left). The findings may aid the development of new lung cancer therapies targeted at inhibiting GLUT1.


A team led by UT Dallas scientists found that some types of cancers have more of a sweet tooth than others.

“It has been suspected that many cancer cells are heavily dependent on sugar as their energy supply, but it turns out that one specific type — squamous cell carcinoma — is remarkably more dependent,” said Dr. Jung-whan “Jay” Kim, assistant professor of biological sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He was senior author of the study published in the online journal Nature Communications.

Kim and his collaborators initially set out to investigate differences in metabolism between two major subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer — adenocarcinoma (ADC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC). About one-quarter of all lung cancers are SqCC, which has been difficult to treat with targeted therapies, Kim said.

Researchers found that a protein responsible for transporting glucose — a kind of sugar — into cells was present in significantly higher levels in lung SqCC than in lung ADC. The protein, called glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1), takes up glucose into cells, where the sugar provides a fundamental energy source and fuels cell metabolism. GLUT1 is also necessary for normal cell functions, such as building cell membranes.

“Prior to this study, it was thought that the metabolic signatures of these two types of lung cancers would be similar, but we realized that they are very different,” Kim said. “These findings lend credence to the idea that cancer is not just one disease, but many diseases that have very different characteristics.”