Connecting unexpected dots between cancer and diabetes

November 2, 2011 by MassDevice

George Daley and his lab may have
found a new way to connect the dots
between cancer and diabetes.

By Tom Ulrich

Most of us think about cancer as a disease of genes gone awry – of mutations, deletions, duplications, etc. causing unchecked cell growth.

But could you also view cancer as a metabolic disorder, like type 2 diabetes? George Daley and his lab in the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Children’s have found some intriguing molecular links that make this a plausible idea.

While it’s not yet clear what this means for patients with either disease, the findings help untangle some very perplexing data about human genetics and diabetes risk, and could change doctors’ thinking about the treatment of both conditions down the road.


Scientists have long known that cancerous and healthy cells don’t use sugar in the same ways.  In the 1930s German physiologist Otto Warburg observed that cancer cells metabolize glucose via different biochemical pathways than healthy cells, a phenomenon known now as the Warburg effect. Tumors also tend to burn up glucose more quickly, which is why they show up so brightly onpositron emission tomography (PET) scans, which measure tissues’ rate of glucose use.