In a news release this week, U.T. Southwestern announced that researchers at the school have made a key observation about how fat cells called adipocytes interact with tumor cells and thereby allow a cancer to thrive in certain types of body tissues, including dense breast tissue or fatty livers.
The UT Southwestern research which was reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation indicated that fat cells near tumors secrete a number of different extracellular chemicals (referred to as factors). Some of the factors were observed to boost tumor development and progression.
The correlation between obesity and a number of different cancers has been established for some time, and so has the relationship between obesity and other diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cardiovascular disease.
The challenge has been to determine which factors are most important in increasing tumor growth. This was the focus of this latest research project led by Dr. Philipp Scherer, Director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research at UT Southwestern .
One finding of the project was the identification that a factor called endotrophin which is a naturally occurring fat cell chemical which appears to fuel the growth of breast tumors in mice. Dr. Scherer and Dr. Jiyoung Park, assistant instructor of internal medicine, showed that blocking endotrophin secreted by the fat cells of the mice had produced a remarkable effect on breast cancer tumors: blocking endotrophin with an antibody not only reduced tumor growth, but also prevented the cancer from metastasizing to other parts of the body.
Dr. Scherer stated, “Not all fat is bad, but endotrophin happens to be more abundant in unhealthy fat tissue. In the context of tumor growth, fat cell-derived endotrophin stimulates the growth of blood vessels that in turn feed cancer cells and enables the tumor to grow more rapidly. As we gain weight, we not only have an increased risk of developing cancer, but we also decrease the chance of successfully fighting the tumor.”
The researchers said future efforts will explore various pathological settings to establish whether this blocking approach is a viable strategy in the clinic.
The study received support from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the Department of Defense Fellowship.
Visit www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/index.html to watch Dr. Scherer discuss his latest research findings. Visit the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center to learn more about oncology at UT Southwestern, including highly individualized treatments for cancer at the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated center.