Cancers display altered cellular metabolism compared to the normal tissues from which they arise. One promising therapeutic approach is to take advantage of these differences by designing interventions that target the metabolic requirements of cancer cells. We have recently observed that maintaining aspartate levels is critical for cancer cell proliferation by supporting the synthesis of the nucleotides and protein needed for proliferation. Importantly, preliminary data has indicated that intracellular aspartate is an endogenous metabolic limitation of tumor growth. Aspartate is relatively impermeable to cells and must be synthesized from other metabolic precursors. Thus, inhibiting the mechanisms cancer cells use to maintain aspartate levels is a potential method of treating cancer. This proposal uses several approaches to target aspartate levels and determine the cancers in which aspartate is most limiting. Specifically, we will test the hypotheses that aspartate is an endogenous metabolic limitation for some tumors (Aim 1), that reductive glutamine metabolism supports aspartate production in hypoxic cells (Aim 2), and that altering asparagine synthesis can affect aspartate levels and cancer cell proliferation (Aim 3). We will use cell culture to test the mechanistic elements of these hypotheses and use preclinical mouse models of cancer to determine their efficacy in vivo. Together, these studies will investigate new therapeutic methods to target the metabolism of cancer cells and identify the situations in which they are best deployed. The long-term scientific goal of this project is therefore to improve cancer therapy by identifying new therapeutic targets and validating them in mouse models of cancer. This career development award will also be critical to my development as a scientist by providing me with mentored training period at the renowned Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This time will be used to develop my scientific ideas and increase my competency in working with the mouse models of cancer that most faithfully recapitulate human disease. The scientific advances learned from this proposal and the training period will be critical to my ultimate goal of establishing an independent research group studying the metabolic constraints of cancer cell proliferation.

Public Health Relevance

Cancer cells have altered metabolic demands compared to normal cells to support inappropriate proliferation. The amino acid aspartate is produced by distinct metabolic pathways in different cancer cells and is required for proliferation. This project will use tissue culture and animal models to test novel therapeutic approaches to modify the availability of aspartate and to determine if decreasing aspartate is a viable approach for inhibiting growth of human cancers.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Transition Award (R00)
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Special Emphasis Panel (NSS)
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Willis, Kristine Amalee
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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
United States
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