A Spanish scientist has opened the way to a new understanding of what causes metastasis in cancer cells. The study which took place at IRB Barcelona has identified the cells responsible for initiating and promoting metastasis in a bunch of different types of human tumors.

What You Should Know About Metastasis

But what is metastasis? Cancer metastasis is the spread of cancer cells to tissues and organs beyond where the tumor originated and the formation of new tumors, and is the single event that results in the death of most patients with cancer (2).

Fat intake and CD36

In the study, mice given a high-fat diet (specifically, palmitic acid) developed the most aggressive metastases. This allowed researchers to conclude that fat intake could enhance the metastasis process. In the absence of the CD36 protein, the human tumors analyzed did not develop metastasis. Further, the inhibition of this protein also dramatically reduced the size of existing metastases. (1).

A General Marker– Any Cancer Type?

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The researchers discovered the metastatic CD36 cells in samples of patients with oral cancer with different degrees of aggressiveness. Of the tumors analyzed, very few were found to have the capacity for metastasis, but with the addition of CD36 it made tumors metastatic. Further, the effect witnessed by the team of CD36 in cancer cells is similar in melanoma cells, luminal breast cancer cells, ovarian, bladder and lung cancer.

Researchers agree that even though tests have not been done in all forms of cancer, they can state that CD36 is a general marker for metastasis of cells. This will allow further research to be done on the CD36 protein and to determine the distribution of metastasis in the cancer cells, and to determine where they anchor to when they leave it, or why they are so sensitive to fat (1).

Dependence of CD36 on metastasis


When mice were provided with a high-fat diet (fifteen percent higher than normal, mimicking a so-called cafeteria diet) and inoculated with a type of oral cancer. Usually, the inoculation would amount to 30% of animals developing metastasis, but with a much higher amount of fat in the blood, around 80% of the mice developed numerous and large metastases (1).

Study conclusions

The protein CD36, which absorbs fat from the cell membrane, is an essential factor that determines whether tumor cells become metastatic (1). Further, they found that there appears to be a direct link between fat intake and an increase in metastatic potential through CD36 (1). The IRB Barcelona team is looking to develop antibodies against CD36 with the potential to treat metastasis in cancer patients.

The researchers have opened new doorways when it comes to cancer treatment, a treatment that will dramatically decrease the chances of metastasis in cancer patients. Even though the research was only done on mice, the possibilities for the future are endless. In some time we could end up having therapies that prevent metastases from developing and will help save lives.

(1)Scientific News. Tumour cells are dependent on fat to start metastasis https://www.irbbarcelona.org/en/news/tumour-cells-are-dependent-on-fat-to-start-metastasis Published: December 7, 2016. Accessed: January 4, 2016.

(2) NCBI. Cancer Invasion and Metastasis: Molecular and Cellular Perspective https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK164700/ Published: 2013. Accessed: January 4, 2016. 

(3) Nature. Targeting metastasis-initiating cells through the fatty acid receptor CD36 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature20791.html Published: December 7, 2016. Accessed: January 4, 2016.

(4) Youtube. Metastasis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrMq8uA_6iA Published: July 30, 2007. Accessed: January 4, 2016.


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