Fat cells, rather than what obese people eat, may fuel tumor growth, according to a new preclinical study involving mice. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston made the discovery, which suggests an intriguing new target for cancer drug developers down the line.
The finding moves beyond the idea that an obese person's diet could influence how cancer advances in the body (though they don't discount diet as one of many possible factors). But it also builds on previous research that painted a connection between some cancers and obesity without identifying what drove the link, the UT scientists note. In this new work, they've determined that tumors in mice essentially used the fat cells as food. The tumor cells sent out a signal that draws progenitor cells from white adipose (fat) tissue in mice. Those cells then feed tumors' blood vessel network, they determined, helping to fuel the cancer's growth.
"For the first time, we have demonstrated that excess fat is a key factor in cancer progression regardless of the diet contributing to the extra weight," senior author Mikhail Kolonin said in a statement.
This finding is a long way from being tested in humans. But it offers a compelling route for future research. Next, for example, the scientific team plans to explore what molecular mechanisms drive fat progenitor cells to a tumor. That's a logical point to proceed. If scientists can figure out what drives the process, then they can also focus on developing a drug that prevents it. And if they can accomplish this, blocking the fat food supply may also keep tumors from advancing and offer another viable option for cancer treatment.
Cancer remains a concern in obese adults. The World Health Organization counted more than 1.4 billion obese adults in 2008, according to the researchers. During that same year, 7.6 million people in this category died of cancer. For details about the research finding, check out the latest issue of the journal Cancer Research.
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