Lactate is a byproduct of the chemical process known as glycolysis – the breaking down of sugar, or glucose, into smaller molecules with the purpose of producing energy. During intense physical activity, lactate accumulates in the tissue and blood, which can sometimes lead to poorer physical performance and muscle stiffness.
At the beginning of the 20th century, German scientist Otto Warburg noticed that cancer cells consume a lot more glucose than normal cells. The so-called Warburg effect refers to the fact that cancer cells undergo more glycolysis and produce more lactate compared with normal cells.
The new research – led by Inigo San Millan, director of the Sports Performance Department and physiology laboratory at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center – set out to understand why the Warburg effect happens. Since Warburg’s time, the focus in cancer research has shifted from cell metabolism to genetics, but the new paper hopes to put lactate back at the center of cancer research.