The research found pancreatic cancer cells may have their own specialised energy supply that maintains calcium levels and keeps cancer cells alive.
Maintaining a low concentration of calcium within cells is vital to their survival and this is achieved by calcium pumps on the plasma membrane.
This calcium pump, known as PMCA, is fuelled using ATP – the key energy currency for many cellular processes.
Scientists used cells taken from human tumours and looked at the effect of blocking each of these two energy sources in turn.
Their study showed that blocking mitochondrial metabolism had no effect. However, when they blocked glycolysis, they saw a reduced supply of ATP which inhibited the calcium pump, resulting in a toxic calcium overload and ultimately cell death.
The research has been published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.