Abdominal Fat Cells Speed Up Spread of Ovarian Cancer

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The omentum, a part of the intestines which is composed of numerous fat cells surrounding the abdomen, is said to speed up the spread of ovarian cancer. These cells expedite the progress of cancer cells by providing additional nutrients and energy which enables tumor cells to rapidly grow. This has been discovered through a study which was also published online in Nature Medicine.

Ernst Lengyel, author of the study and professor of obstetrics and gynecology of the University of Chicago said that, “The cells that make up the omentum contain the biological equivalent of jet fuel. They feed the cancer cells, enabling them to multiply rapidly.”

He also explained that the fatty tissues of the omentum is has a vast amount of energy-dense lipids, thus providing malignant cells of the ovaries a launching pad. In the end, these cancerous cells spread the lethal disease called ovarian cancer.

In terms of cancer related deaths among women, ovarian cancer ranks as the fifth leading cause. For majority of the women, the cancer may have already spread to the omentum, even before the ovarian cancer becomes diagnosed. In the omentum, the tumor even tends to become larger than the original cancerous tumor due to the area’s energy and nutrient rich content.

“Currently, it is unclear why tumor cells preferentially home to and proliferate in the omentum, yet omental metastases typically represent the largest tumor in the abdominal cavities of women with ovarian cancer,” write the authors.

Lengyel and his colleagues, in their efforts to discover more information about the spread of these cancer cells to the abdomen of healthy mice, made use of a series of experiments. In these experiments, they cultured ovarian cancer cells and inoculated them to live mice.

Suprisingly, it only took 20 minutes upon injection of ovarian cancer cells for these cells to reach the omentum of the healthy mice. This means that the cancer cells have a high affinity to the cells in the omentum. Apart from that, they were also able to discover that adipokines, a certain type of cell-signalling protein, which is found inside the omentum were vital in attracting the ovarian cancer cells. When they blocked the signals of these adipokines, the attraction was reduced by 50%. They further explained their discoveries through their report:

-         “… primary human omental adipocytes promote homing, migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells, and … adipokines including interleukin-8 (IL-8) mediate these activities.”

-         Upon reaching the omentum, the cells immediately set the tool which will “launch” and directly transfer the nutrient and energy containing-lipids from the adipocytes to the ovarian cancer cells.

-         They also discovered that it does not take long for the cancer cells to transform the entire omentum into one solid mass of cancerous cells.

-         On a positive note, the researchers were also able to find out that a Fatty Acid Binding Protein (FABP4) is important in speeding up the spread of cancer cells and a deficiency of this protein can slow down the stasis of these cells.




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