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Catalan scientists discover that saturated fat fuels the spread of cancer

A group of scientists from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology have identified a population of oral tumour cells which may feast on fats to spread throughout the body — a process called metastasis. According to the study, published this Wednesday in the prestigious scientific magazine ‘Nature’, some of these cells expressed high levels of a molecule called CD36, which helps cells to take up lipids from their environment. The research shows that applying antibodies that block CD36 and eliminate its interaction with fatty acids resulted in a reduced number of metastatic focus and also reduced their size by around 80% to 90%. “If we cut the lipids supply to those cells which generate metastasis they are practically unable to spread”, the leader of the IRB ‘Cancer and Stem cells’ team, Salvador Aznar Benitah, explained. 

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08 December 2016 06:52 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (CNA).- The cells responsible for  the spread of cancer may have in saturated fats their Achilles heel. According to a study carried out by a group of scientists from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, these cells which are responsible for most cancer deaths expressed high levels of a molecule called CD36, which helps cells to take up lipids from their environment. “If we cut the lipids supply to those cells which generate metastasis they are practically unable to spread”, the leader of the IRB ‘Cancer and Stem cells’ team, Salvador Aznar Benitah, explained. The study, published this Wednesday in the prestigious scientific magazine ‘Nature’, shows that applying antibodies that block CD36 and eliminate its interaction with fatty acids reduces the number of metastatic focus and also their size, by around 80% to 90%.


Benitah’s team is now carrying out a study that aims to enrol 1,000 people with cancer, profiling lipids in their blood to look for any links to the spread of cancer cells. But at this stage, it is still too early to tell people to avoid fatty foods, cautions Lengyel — especially people with cancer who may need a high-energy diet. 

 “It looks like there is a direct link between consuming lipids and fuelling metastasis through CD36”, explained Aznar Benitah although he nuanced that such a correlation has been confirmed “with mice which have been inoculated with human tumour cells”. “More studies need to be carried out in order to have a better understanding of the connection between a fatty diet and metastasis”, he stated, but assured that “if tumour cells are fuelled by a diet based on lipids or with high levels of palm oil, they become more aggressive”.

The researchers also mined public databases and found that high expression of CD36 correlated with poor medical results in bladder, lung, breast and other cancers in people.

Benitah’s team is now working to develop antibodies against CD36 that could be used in clinical trials, although he estimates that it will take at least another four years to reach that milestone. Benitah notes that such a therapy may be effective even after cancer has started to spread: in mice, experimental antibodies eradicated metastatic tumours 15% of the time. The remaining metastatic tumours shrunk by at least 80%. 

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  • Cientifics

  • Leader of the IRB ‘Cancer and Stem cells’ team, Salvador Aznar Benitah and researcher Gloria Pascual, at their laboratory in Barcelona (by ACN)