It is the first time that what we eat and how it affects the development of cancer has been scientifically linked in such a direct way. According to a study carried out in mice by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), palmitic acid, a fatty acid in palm oil, increases the likelihood that cancer will spread. They have thus discovered the mechanism by which this substance promotes metastasis.
After this finding, published this Wednesday in the journal Nature, the researchers have already started working to develop a treatment that interrupts the process of the spread of cancer.
Cancer metastasis is the leading cause of death in patients with this disease and doctors already knew that fatty acids in the diet are conducive to the spread of cancer, but they did not yet know how this process works and what fats actually contribute to the spread of tumors.
The findings of this research demonstrate that palmitic acid is one of those that promotes metastasis in oral cancer and melanoma skin cancer in mice. In contrast, other fatty acids, such as oleic acid or linoleic acid, omega-9 and omega-6 fats, found in foods such as olive oil and flax seeds, did not show the same effect in the same study.
Metastasis is estimated to be responsible for 90% of all cancer deaths
The research, funded in part by Worldwide Cancer Research, highlights that when palmitic acid was supplemented in the diet of the mice it contributed to metastasis, but it also had long-term effects on the genome. Cancer cells that had only been exposed to palmitic acid for a short period of time remained highly metastatic, even when palmitic acid had been completely eliminated from the diet.
The researchers discovered that this “memory” is caused by changes in the functioning of genes, epigenetic changes, which alter the function of metastatic cancer cells and allow them to form a neural network around the tumor to communicate with cells in their environment immediate and spread more easily.
Looking for a treatment to stop metastases
By understanding how this communication works, the researchers discovered a way to block it and now are starting to plan a clinical trial to stop metastasis in different types of cancer.
For this trial, the start-up ONA Therapeutics, co-founded by the lead author of the study, the researcher and head of the Stem Cells and Cancer laboratory at IRB Barcelona, Salvador Aznar-Benitah, is developing a drug with antibodies.
The company has obtained 30 million euros from private investors to develop this first-class treatment for metastatic cancer and the researchers hope that the trial will begin in the next two years to test their new antibody in several different types of cancer. “If things continue as planned,” Aznar-Benitah explained, “we could start the first clinical trial in a couple of yearsWe are investing a lot of effort to generate the best possible therapy so that cancer patients can benefit in the near future. ”
The IRB researcher explained that “it is still too early to determine what type of diet patients with metastatic cancer could consume to delay the metastatic process, much more work is needed to determine this.” In fact, the expert has assured that the research “does not follow this direction”, but focuses on “new potential therapeutic targets that we could inhibit and that could have a real therapeutic benefit for the patient regardless of their diet.” The executive director of Worldwide Cancer Research, Helen Rippon, has stated that “this discovery is a breakthrough in understanding how diet and cancer are linked and, perhaps most importantly, how we can use this knowledge to initiate new cures for cancer. “
According to Rippon, it is estimated that metastasis is responsible for 90% of all cancer deaths, that is, about 9 million deaths per year worldwide. “Learn more about what causes cancer to spread and, more importantly, how to stop itis the way forward to reduce these numbers “, he concluded.