September 15th, 2016
A taste for fat
Scientists at Harvard Medical School discover molecular handle behind some cancers’ preference for fat
By Elizabeth Cooney, Harvard Medical School
Cancers are such notorious sugar addicts that PET scans searching for the disease light up when they detect sugar-gobbling tumor cells.
But a handful of cancers appear to favor fat over sugar, a propensity that has long mystified scientists. Now, a study from Harvard Medical School reveals how certain tumors develop a taste for fat as their life-sustaining fuel.
The findings, published Sept. 15 in Molecular Cell, show how a signaling pathway that normally keeps fat-burning in check goes awry in some cancers, revving up fat consumption and fueling tumor growth.
Specifically, the study found that a protein called prolyl hydroxylase 3 (PHD3) appears to be a key regulator of the delicate balance inside cells that dampens fat- burning. That protein, the research shows, is abnormally low in certain forms of cancer, including acute myeloid leukemia and prostate cancer—a finding that can help lay the ground for development of therapies that work by starving tumors of their fuel.
“This really represents a new frontier in looking at the metabolism of cancer,” said Marcia Haigis, HMS associate professor of cell biology and senior author of the paper. “Understanding the molecular handle of this pathway is the first step toward translating the basic work into therapy.”