Fat responsible for the spread of cancer


Researcher Olivier Feron has discovered how fat stored in cancer cells makes the cells more invasive and increases the occurrence of metastases. The discovery has led to new cancer treatments.

The teams at UCLouvain had been working on this problem for quite some time. Back in 2016, they discovered that fats are an important source of energy for the most aggressive cancer cells.

They have now successfully identified the TGF-beta2 factor. They discovered that this factor is responsible both for fat storage and the aggressive nature observed in cancer cells. They also made the alarming discovery that these two processes are mutually reinforcing. Accumulating fats allows cancer cells to build up energy reserves that they can mobilise when needed.

The researchers also recently demonstrated that the acidity present in tumours facilitates their development, by favouring TGF-beta2. The cancer cells then have better resistance and can move around. It is comparable to a mountaineer carrying his equipment with him, to survive in extreme conditions. He will manage to reach the summit despite harsh weather conditions.

This new research also makes it possible to envisage new therapeutic approaches, in particular by identifying molecules that block the transport of fatty acids. These molecules are currently used to treat obesity, hence the idea of considering extending their medicinal use to patients with metastases.