High fat meals fuel cancers’ spread
The cells responsible for cancer’s spread — and for most deaths from cancer — may have a fatal weakness according to studies in mice: a reliance on certain fats to fuel their invasion.
It is a difficult and hazardous undertaking for a cancer cell to uproot itself, travel through the bloodstream and take hold in an entirely different part of the body. (Non-cancerous cells are often programmed to self-destruct if they leave the tissue they live in.) Researchers have long struggled to understand which cancer cells can manage the feat, and how they do so.
But a study published on December 7 in journal Nature has identified a population of oral tumour cells that are able to make the journey in mice, and has found that such cells may feast on fats to fuel the trip. Determining how certain cancer cells spread throughout the body — a process called metastasis — is a big step forward, says Xiang Zhang, a cancer researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who was not involved in the study. “Now people have a suspect they can follow.”
To find that suspect, Salvador Aznar Benitah of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology in Spain and his colleagues looked among oral-cancer cells for those that could seed tumours. Within that population of cells, the team found some that expressed high levels of a molecule called CD36, which helps cells to take up lipids from their environment.
Such lipids could serve as an energy source for wandering tumour cells, they reasoned. “Metastasis takes a lot of energy,” says Ernst Lengyel, a gynaecological oncologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, who was not involved in the project. “As a cell you must be able to adapt to changing environments, reprogram protein expression, establish a beachhead and start proliferating as soon as possible.”
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