What Otto Warburg Actually Discovered About Cancer

What Otto Warburg Actually Discovered About Cancer

What Otto Warburg Actually Discovered About Cancer

Did you know what Otto Warburg actually discovered about cancer is true to this day?

What is the Warburg effect? Metabolizing glucose is essential so energy can be harnessed in the form of ATP. ATP or adenosine triphosphate is also known as the “molecular currency of intracellular energy transfer.” It stores and transports chemical energy within the cells. (

In tumors and cancer cells, the rate of glucose uptake significantly increases, and lactate—an organic molecule—is produced, even in the presence of oxygen and completely functioning mitochondria. This is the Warburg effect.

It was named after Otto Heinrich Warburg, a German doctor, and Nobel Laureate. Warburg was born in 1883 in Freiburg, Baden. His father was the physicist Emil Warburg who was the President of the Physikalische Reichsanstalt, Wirklicher Geheimer Oberregierungsrat (True Senior Privy Counselor).

He studied chemistry under the renowned Emil Fischer and earned a Doctor of Chemistry degree in 1906. Fischer was a renowned German chemist. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1902.

After serving in the Prussian Horse Guards during World War I, he becomes Professor at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. He studied the polypeptide field with Fischer and his work involved studies on the metabolism of tumors and assimilation of carbon dioxide in plants, among others.

What Did Warburg Discover With Cancer Cells

Warburg was the Director at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Cell Physiology. This is where he discovered flavins and nicotinamides as the active groups of the hydrogen-transforming enzymes.

He was named a recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his “discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme.” This discovery has paved the way for further studies into the fields of cellular metabolism and respiration.

 Warburg has found that, even without oxygen, cancer cells can live and grow. In 1924, he showed that cancer cells demonstrate an “increased dependence on glycolysis to meet their energy needs.”

Glycolysis refers to the extraction of energy from glucose. It is the first stage in cellular respiration. It does not require oxygen and anaerobic organisms have this metabolic pathway.

When cancer cells convert glucose to lactate, it is “far less efficient” because less ATP is generated. Therefore, a high rate of glucose is required by cancer cells to sustain tumor progression.

What Does This Mean For Cancer Patients?

 For patients, this can mean that diet plays a major role in therapy and in keeping cancer away post-treatment. Though not directly, sugar has long been associated with a higher risk for cancer.

A 2014 policy paper from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) noted obesity as a “leading preventable cause of cancer.” While sugar was not directly mentioned, excessive sugar consumption, coupled with lack of physical activity, can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

In fact, one study pointed to diabetes and obesity as the main causes of nearly 6% of all cancers in 2012. A “sugar-poor” diet may not directly prevent or treat cancer, but it certainly has both short- and long-term health benefits for patients.

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