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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Abubakari

The Role of Metabolism in Disease

Metabolism is a complex process that facilitates the breakdown of nutrients to generate energy and the production of molecules crucial for cellular function. By supporting energy production, utilization, and storage, metabolism serves as the backbone of physiological health, ensuring the seamless functioning of tissues and organs.

Cancer cells, however, hijack typical metabolic processes, leading to what scientists term "metabolic reprogramming." Fueled by an insatiable appetite for nutrients and energy, cancer cells rewire their metabolic pathways to sustain uncontrolled growth and survival. One notable aspect is the Warburg effect, where cancer cells opt for glycolysis, a less efficient method of energy production, even in the presence of oxygen (1). This seemingly counterintuitive choice provides essential building blocks for the rapid cell division characteristic of cancer. 

Cancer cell metabolism

Ongoing research continues to demonstrate the complexity of cancer cell metabolism, challenging the notion of a singular 'metabolic map' or 'metabolic switch'. Beyond altered energy production, cancer cells exhibit an increased reliance on glutaminolysis, involving the breakdown of the amino acid glutamine. This nutrient scavenging strategy supports the synthesis of macromolecules crucial for cancer cell proliferation (2). The utilization of glutamine, a key metabolite, varies significantly based on several parameters. These parameters include the cancer cell's tissue of origin, the specific genetic aberrations driving its behavior, the characteristics of the tumor microenvironment, and potentially even factors like diet and host metabolism.

The combined influence of these variables results in a spectrum of metabolic phenotypes among cancer cells. Some cells exhibit a high dependence on the catabolism of external glutamine, while others proficiently accumulate glutamine through de novo synthesis, ensuring self-sufficiency for their glutamine requirements. This diversity underscores the intricate and multifaceted nature of cancer cell metabolism.  Additionally, lipid metabolism undergoes alterations in cancer cells, promoting the synthesis of lipids essential for membrane formation and signaling cascades sustaining malignant behavior (3). 


While cancer often takes the spotlight in metabolic research, the impact of metabolic dysregulation extends to various other diseases. Conditions like metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis and heart failure, all reflect the imprint of disrupted metabolism. 

Understanding the intricacies of metabolic dysregulation opens innovative avenues for therapeutic strategies. Researchers are exploring ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of cancer cells' metabolic reprogramming, leading to the development of promising therapies that selectively target malignant metabolism. According to Luengo et. al, various metabolic distinctions between cancer cells and normal cells have been described. These distinctions serve to exemplify how they can be harnessed for therapeutic interventions (4). However, navigating the metabolic landscape in disease can also come with its challenges, including unraveling the complex interplay of metabolic pathways, developing effective therapeutic interventions, and addressing the heterogeneity of metabolic profiles across diseases. In the symphony of human health, metabolism takes center stage, influencing the rise and fall of various diseases, especially cancer. As our understanding deepens, so does the potential for transformative therapies that target the metabolic vulnerabilities of diseases, offering new hope for a harmonious and healthier future. 

At Brooks Hill Partners, we appreciate the nuanced approach required for innovative drug discovery. Brooks Hill Partners is a life sciences consultancy and early-stage health tech venture capital firm that partners with passionate companies across the biopharma and healthcare landscape. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help your business thrive. For more information, visit and follow us on LinkedIn.  


  1. Liberti, M. V., & Locasale, J. W. (2016). The Warburg Effect: How Does it Benefit Cancer Cells?. Trends in biochemical sciences, 41(3), 211–218. 

  2. Cluntun, A. A., Lukey, M. J., Cerione, R. A., & Locasale, J. W. (2017). Glutamine Metabolism in Cancer: Understanding the Heterogeneity. Trends in cancer, 3(3), 169–180. 

  3. Cheng, H., Wang, M., Su, J., Li, Y., Long, J., Chu, J., Wan, X., Cao, Y., & Li, Q. (2022). Lipid Metabolism and Cancer. Life (Basel, Switzerland), 12(6), 784. 

  4. Luengo, A., Gui, D. Y., & Vander Heiden, M. G. (2017). Targeting Metabolism for Cancer Therapy. Cell chemical biology, 24(9), 1161–1180. 




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