A new study funded by UK charity Worldwide Cancer Research and headed by Professor Salvador Aznar Benitah, at the Institute for Research in Barcelona (IRB) shows that the metastatic process (cancer spread) is enhanced by fat intake. The researchers used mice in the experiment, and compared high fat diets with diets low in fat and how oral cancer affects them. The diets high in fat showed the most aggressive cancer spread compared to the other.
The researchers in Barcelona identified for the first time a specific protein called CD36 on cancer cells which have the ability to metastasize (spread). CD36, found in the cell membranes of tumor cells, is responsible for taking up fatty acids. CD36 activity and dependence on fatty acids distinguishes metastasis-initiating cells from other tumor cells. The high fat diet caused 50% more mice to have larger and more frequent metastases.
Researchers were able to show that blocking CD36 completely prevented metastasis. In mice with cancer cells that had already metastasized, CD36 blocking antibodies led to the complete removal of metastases in 20% of the mice, whilst in the others it caused a dramatic reduction of 80-90% of metastases and reduced the size. This study is a step in the right direction for understanding all of the different conditions that cancer can proliferate under.