Cancer cells spread to other sites in the body through promoting the growth of new “roads” to travel on. In a study published online on December 26, 2016 in Nature, an international and multidisciplinary team of researchers, led by Professor Dr. Peter Carmeliet (VIB-KU Leuven), discovered how a shift to increased fat utilization is required for the development and growth of these “roads,” termed lymphatic vessels - a special kind of blood vessels. This discovery paves the way towards developing therapeutics to limit lymphatic vessel growth in cancer by targeting fat utilization. The spread of cancer, termed metastasis, is one of the most important and life-threatening complications of cancer today. Current chemotherapy and radiotherapy can effectively treat many cancers, however, the spread of cancer cells to multiple sites within the body results in the majority of deaths associated with cancer. In order for cancer cells to spread, they must find a pre-existing “road,” or build a new “road” to travel on. Lymphatic vessels, a specialized kind of vessels transporting lymph fluid rather than blood, are a primary route of cancer cell spread, and the formation of new lymphatic vessels, termed lymphangiogenesis, is a poorly understood process, which currently lacks clinically approved drugs to prevent their growth during disease. The new article is titled “Fat Fuels the Road To Cancer Cell Spread.” Expanding upon recent work in the laboratory published in top journals such as Cell and Nature, a team consisting of Drs. Brian Wong, Xingwu Wang, and Annalisa Zecchin, guided by Professor Carmeliet, sought to investigate the nutrient utilization (metabolism) of lymphatic vessels. The study began with a simple observation: lymphatics use more fat (fatty acids) compared to blood vessels.
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