A large pad of fat cells that extends from the stomach and covers the intestines provides nutrients that promote the spread and growth of ovarian cancer, reports a research team based at the University of Chicago in the journal Nature Medicine, published online October 30th, 2011.
Ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women, tends to spread within the abdominal cavity as opposed to distant organs. In 80 percent of women, by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it has spread to the pad of fat cells, called the omentum. Often, cancer growth in the omentum exceeds the growth of the original ovarian cancer.
"This fatty tissue, which is extraordinarily rich in energy-dense lipids, acts as a launching pad and energy source for the likely lethal spread of ovarian cancer," said study author Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. "The cells that make up the omentum contain the biological equivalent of jet fuel. They feed the cancer cells, enabling them to multiply rapidly. Gaining a better understanding of this process could help us learn how to disrupt it."
The researchers performed a series of experiments to identify the role of these fat cells as major mediators of ovarian cancer metastasis. The first step was to understand the biological signals that attract ovarian cancer cells to the omentum and use it for rapid growth.
The spread of ovarian cancer cells to the omentum can happen quickly. Ovarian cancer cells injected into the abdomen of healthy mice find their way to the omentum within 20 minutes. The researchers found that protein signals emitted by the omentum can attract the tumor cells. Inhibitors which disturbed these signals reduced this attraction by at least 50 percent.
Once ovarian cancer cells reach the omentum, they quickly develop the tools to devour the sustenance provided by this fatty tissue, reprogramming their metabo
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center