A fatty acid in palm oil increases cancer risk, study finds

The palmitic acid, a palm oil fatty acid, increases the likelihood of the spread of Cancer, according to a study done in mice by IRB Barcelona researchers, who have also discovered the mechanism by which this substance promotes metastasis.

After this finding, published this Wednesday in the journal “Nature”, researchers from the Research Institute of Biomedicine (IRB) have already begun to work to develop a treatment that interrupts the process of the spread of cancer.

Cancer metastasis is the main cause of death in patients with this disease, and doctors already knew that fatty acids in the diet favor the spread of cancer, but they still did not know how this process works and what fats actually contribute to it. the spread of tumors.

The findings of this research show that palmitic acid is one of the 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.

Effects on the genome

The research, funded in part by Worldwide Cancer Research, highlights that when palmitic acid was supplemented in the diet of 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 found that this “memory” It is caused by changes in the functioning of genes, epigenetic changes, that alter the function of metastatic cancer cells and allow them to form a neural network around the tumor to communicate with cells in their immediate environment and spread more easily.

By understanding how this communication works, the researchers discovered a way to block it and are now beginning to plan a clinical trial to stop metastasis in different types of cancer.

Drug in development

For this trial, the start-up ONA Therapeutics, co-founded by the study’s lead author, researcher and head of the Stem Cells and Cancer laboratory at IRB Barcelona, ​​Salvador Aznar-Benitah, is developing an antibody drug.

The company has raised € 30 million 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 years, we 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.”

Cancer-diet linkage

Worldwide Cancer Research Executive Director Helen Rippon said, “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. “.

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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.

“Learning more about what causes cancer to spread and, more importantly, how to stop it, is the way forward to reduce these numbers,” he concluded.


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