Stopping cancer in its tracks may be easier than we thought and possible without debilitating rounds of chemo and radiation therapies. All we have to do is take away its energy source. Researchers at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology in Spain have discovered that a cancerous cell’s metastasization — the process through which the disease spreads throughout the body — relies heavily on the presence of a single molecule which allows the cells to absorb lipid fats from their environment.
See, metastasizing is an extremely energy-intensive venture. Most cells are biologically programmed to self-destruct if they break free from their surrounding tissue, in fact. However, for a cancer cell to spread not only does it have to survive the trip it must immediately adapt to the new tissue, adjust its protein expression to the new environment and begin propagating before it’s attacked by the immune system. In the December edition of the journal Nature, the Barcelona team reports that it discovered this process runs on fats. And to absorb that energy source, the cancer cell uses a molecule called CD36.
The team found that when antibodies blocked the CD36, the cancer cells were unable to absorb lipids and therefore unable to metastasize. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything to slow the original tumor’s growth but being able to keep it from spreading is still a big deal. And, going back through their medical literature, the Barcelona team found a correlation between the strength of CD36 expression in a patient and a worse medical outcome. The findings held true for bladder, lung and breast cancers in people as well.
The team is currently developing antibodies that will inhibit the expression of CD36, though they expect their work to take at least four more years before it will be ready for human trials. But their initial findings are promising. The prototype antibodies completely destroyed 15 percent of the metastasized cells they came in contact with and shrank the remaining tumors by at least 80 percent.
That said, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, don’t do anything drastic like unilaterally switch to a low-fat diet. You’re not a doctor and these guys haven’t confirmed anything in humans yet. Always follow the direction of your oncologist.