A study published in Nature reported the development in mice of a drug that targets metastasis-promoting cells in cancer, and could therefore potentially prevent the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.
Prof Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, University of Cambridge, said:
“These authors have used a mouse model of oral cancer to show that a specific subset of cells from mouth cancers are able to spread (metastasise) to the lymph nodes and lungs. This spread was promoted by feeding the mice a high fat diet and blocked by treating the mice with an antibody against a specific protein expressed by these cells.
“These findings are of interest because the biology of cancer metastasis is not well understood and ultimately it is cancer metastasis that usually causes death in cancer patients. If we could prevent cancers from metastasizing we would be able to substantially reduce the mortality due to cancer.
“However, these findings are too preliminary to be able to state that they have any implications for cancer occurring in humans. Mouse models (and animal models in general) give us important clues to understanding biology, but the findings in mice do not always transfer to humans. Much more work needs to be done to confirm the importance of these findings.”
Prof Lawrence Young, Director of Warwick Cancer Research Centre, University of Warwick, said:
“I think this is a significant paper which identifies and characterises a subset of metastatic tumour cells that are dependent on dietary lipids. The data on anti-CD36 neutralising antibodies blocking tumour spread is very compelling as is the correlation of CD36 with poor prognosis in various human cancers. There has been much speculation about the role of dietary fat on cancer development and spread, and a growing literature on the role of tumour-associated adipocytes (fat cells) in various tumours including breast and ovarian cancer. This paper highlights a novel mechanism which may drive cancer spread and is amenable to therapeutic intervention.”
No conflicts of interest