In studying the connection between body fat and cancer growth, researchers found that consuming fat changed the cancer cells’ behavior. Fat-fueled melanoma cells showed an enhanced capability to chew through collagen and cross membranes, allowing them to spread more easily. They also changed their metabolism to burn fat for energy instead of sugar.
The results led the team to wonder if blocking a melanoma’s ability to take up fat would dampen its aggressiveness. To test the premise, they used a drug to block a protein, called the FATP transporter, that enables the cancer cells to take in fat. Cancer cells have much more of this protein than normal cells, so they are more sensitive to the drug. As predicted, reducing the cells’ ability to take up fat slowed their growth and spread.White says the results could instruct a new treatment regime against melanoma. “Can we identify a subset of patients that are particularly lipid dependent? Those might be the ones who could benefit from an approach geared toward blocking fat uptake into the cells,” he says.