Cancer Cells Use Lipid Molecules To Grow

A difficult point in treating cancer with drugs is resistance to cancer drugs. Scientists have lately found a mechanism that may explain the resistance and it may lead to a new way of treating cancer with drugs.

Currently, cancer drugs aim to inhibit the formation of blood vessels, because tumors grow and spread by growing new blood vessels that supply the cnacer cells with nutrients and hormones, including glucose. When the formation of new blood vessels is inhibited, the blood supply to the tumor becomes lower, the tumor is then lack of fuel from blood glucose to keep growing. However, clinically the cancer treatment with such drugs often develop a resistance to drugs, especially types that grow close to fat tissues such as breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer and prostate cancer.

Scientists from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, in collaboration with Japanese and Chinese scientists, found that cancer cells can use lipid molecules as fuel instead of blood glucose. This mechanism may explain the drug resistance.

The reduction of tumour blood vessels results in low oxygenation in tumour tissues—a process called hypoxia. In the current study, the researchers show that hypoxia acts as a trigger to tell fat cells surrounding or within tumour tissues to break down the stored excessive lipid energy molecules. These lipid energy molecules can when the blood supply is low be used for cancer tissue expansion.

Based on the finding, scientists have proposed a combination therapy that both inhibits blood vessel formation and blocks lipid energy pathway. In animal model, this combination therapy shows a superior effect.

The lead professor of this project is working with drug companies and clinical oncologists to further prove its effect on human beings.


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