It has long been postulated that obesity is linked to a predisposition to getting certain types of cancer. Specifically, adipose stromal cells (ASCs) these are a "more focused" stem cell that will likely, but not necessarily become a fat or connective tissue cell have been shown to enhance tumor growth and progression. Keeping this principle in mind, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center hypothesized that obesity treatments, which target these cells, may in fact work against tumors as well.
In a study published in Molecular Therapy, Mikhail Kolonin, PhD, senior author and associate professor at McGovern Medical School at University of Texas found that a medication his team developed that targets these ASCs was able to suppress tumor growth in mice.
Dr. Kolonin states, We propose that drugs targeting ASC can be developed as a combination therapy complementing conventional cancer treatments. He had previously developed a prototype drug was developed called D-WAT that had been shown to curb obesity in animal models. It works by hunting and killing adipose stromal cells, adds Dr. Kolonin.
How does attacking these ASCs work? ASCs are a part of a tumor s microenviroment. This is the local region around the tumor which is comprised of blood vessels, a variety of different types of connective tissue cells, immune cells and signaling molecules, and the extracellular matrix (network of material the cells are suspended in). What the team discovered was that by targeting and killing ASCs there was concomitant cell death, hemorrhaging, and suppressed tumor growth. Cancer cell growth relies on the microenvironment and tumors use ASCs to fortify their pipeline of blood vessels. Without the ASC support, tumors are compromised, states Dr. Kolonin.
Any functional tissue like a tumor requires and is absolutely dependent on an adequate blood supply for nutrients. Without it, there is tissue death (necrosis) and in the case of cancer - suppression of tumor growth. Blocking a cancer's ability to produce blood vessels is already part of the arsenal of anti-cancer treatments known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors which aims to inhibit the growth of the blood vessels that supply the tumor.
This is certainly an exciting area of potential therapeutic interventions. If D-WAT becomes available for human trials the prospect of its benefits are obviously multiple. With more than one third (78.6 million) of American adults being obese, the development of such a medication could have profound effects in terms of potential lives that can be saved, improved quality of life, and tremendous economic impacts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual medical costs alone in the United States due to obesity were $147 billion in 2008.
We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of this research.