Identifying new targeted therapies that kill tumor cells while sparing normal tissue is a major challenge of cancer research. Using a high-throughput chemical synthetic lethal screen, we sought to identify compounds that exploit the loss of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene, which occurs in about 80% of renal cell carcinomas (RCCs). RCCs, like many other cancers, are dependent on aerobic glycolysis for ATP production, a phenomenon known as the Warburg effect. The dependence of RCCs on glycolysis is in part a result of induction of glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1). Here, we report the identification of a class of compounds, the 3-series, exemplified by STF-31, which selectively kills RCCs by specifically targeting glucose uptake through GLUT1 and exploiting the unique dependence of these cells on GLUT1 for survival. Treatment with these agents inhibits the growth of RCCs by binding GLUT1 directly and impeding glucose uptake in vivo without toxicity to normal tissue. Activity of STF-31 in these experimental renal tumors can be monitored by [18F] fluorodeoxyglucose uptake by micro-positron emission tomography imaging, and therefore, these agents may be readily tested clinically in human tumors. Our results show that the Warburg effect confers distinct characteristics on tumor cells that can be selectively targeted for therapy.
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