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Fat Is Bad: Doctors Discover More Proof that Fat May Fuel Cancer Spread

Dec 15, 2016 05:33 AM EST

Scientists have just figured out that the cells responsible of spreading cancer around mice have a big weakness: they need certain fats. 

Now a team of researchers is trying to block these cells from absorbing fat. If they do so, they may actually stop cancer from metastasizing in mice and, if successful, do the same to humans.Metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world. 

However, scientists are still struggling to understand just exactly how and why cancer cells go through the energy-intensive process of splitting off and traveling around the body.

According to Science Alert, it was one thought that sugars actually fuel cancer. However, a study earlier this year suggests we are looking at the process entirely wrong, and that fat may actually be the driving force for cancer. 

And this theory is getting weight. A team of researchers has just identified the cells responsible for the spread of oral cancer in mice, and that they actually rely on fatty acids such as palmitic acid (in palm oil) to spread.

They figured this out by noticing that a lot of metastasising cells expressed high levels of a receptor called CD36, a protein that helps absorb lipids.

A high concentration of this protein has been linked to poor medical outcomes in cancer patients, so the team decided to see what would happen if they block the receptor.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered that by blocking CD36 in a large range of human cancer cells, they stopped it from spreading altogether in mice. Sadly, it didn't stop primary tumors from forming.

Lead researcher Salvador Benitah told Research Gate that while this proves that metastatic cells may rely on certain fatty acids, they still don't know the precise mechanism of why blocking CD36 has such a strong effect on metastasis. 

Regardless, this approach is proven to be effective on mice at best. Blocking CD36 with antibodies eradicated metastatic tumors 15-percent of the time, while the remaining tumors that had spread shrunk by 80-percent. Mice fed high-fat diet also had more and larger tumors in lymph nodes and lungs - a sign of spreading - compared to mice on normal diets.

Of course, the study has only been one on human cancer cells in mice, meaning there's no guarantee of its efficacy on human patients. At this point, no one is still recommended to cut fats from their diets, as a lot of patients need high-energy diets to stay healthy.

However, the team is working on creating antibodies that work against CD36 in humans and hope to test them within the next five years. 

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